Hoping and Weeping
Last week we entered the Hebrew month of Av. The first nine days of Av are the darkest time in the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem. Today on Tisha B’av we fast and grieve and read the lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah: “How has she fallen so alone? The city that was teeming with people has now become a widow.”
What is the tone of our mourning on Tisha B’av? What are we supposed to be thinking about? I recently read a commentary called Netivot Shalom (Paths of Peace) by Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky who spoke passionately about Tisha B’av. There he describes two types of mourning. The first is a weeping over the past, over the tragedy that befell us, over missed opportunities, mourning what was. That is not our goal on Tisha B’av. There is a second type of weeping—it is the yearning and longing for our future. A longing for what can be. That’s the note we are asked to strive for on Tisha B’av: a weeping for what can yet be.
As the rabbis tell us in the Talmud, when we die and face judgment in the heavenly tribunal we will be asked these questions:
1. Did you set aside time to study Torah?
That seems like a good practical question.
2. Did you conduct your business affairs in honesty?
That too seems like a reasonable question.
But then comes an odd question:
3. Did you have hope? Did you hope for better days? Did you long for, pray for, work for the world to improve?
That’s the mourning of Tisha B’av and that’s our longing and our challenge during these dark days right now. Are we falling into anger or despair? Are we descending into in fighting? Are we grieving what was or what could have been? Or are we weeping with deep longing for what we believe can still emerge even when all hell is breaking loose.
This is a difficult weeping to strive for. It’s so much easier to become depressed, cold, callous, fanatical and vengeful. But that is our challenge and it must be our mission: To somehow see with new eyes. Perhaps this Tisha B’av we can catch a glimpse of Ohr Haganuz, the supernal hidden light, and by that light we can be given the power to see the world not as it is, but as it can be.
I recently returned from Israel. During my first week there, before things heated up in Gaza, I spent my days interviewing Holocaust survivors for a book I am working on. I met with men who had been liberated from Buchenwald as young children who are now in their eighties. I spoke with men and women who were liberated from Buchenwald as teenagers who established Kibbutz Buchenwald, which now goes by the name Netzer Sereni. They have lived out their lives building this vibrant kibbutz, raising children and grandchildren and great grandchildren there. I was struck by the beauty of what these survivors achieved, the miracle of the horror they came from and what they built and made of their lives.
And then the days in Israel grew darker: air raids, sirens, rockets, bomb shelters, iron dome. And in the midst of all this, the group of rabbis I was with (a progressive rabbinic AIPAC mission) was granted permission to visit the national archive of Israel. The archive is in Jerusalem, but if you try to mapquest the building you will be given the wrong address. There is no address and no signage for this national treasure. When you enter it feels like the opening scene of the TV show “Get Smart” with one door opening into another set of doors and then another. And when you finally enter the actual archive it looks like the last scene of “Indiana Jones” –a warehouse full of cardboard boxed piled from floor to ceiling as far as your eyes can see.
Yossi, our archivist, led us to a room that looked something like a chemistry lab. And there on the table before us I saw the original document declaring the birth of the State of Israel signed by Ben Gurion and Stephen S. Wise and Golda Meyerson (as she was called back then) and so many other luminaries. Next I saw the original Camp David Peace Accord signed by Begin and Sadat and Carter. And then before me I held the hand-written poems of the Hebrew poet Rachel expressing so much promise and longing and soul. And then sitting there on the table in front of me was the gun that was used to shoot Yitzhak Rabin. As you know he was murdered by a Jew who couldn’t stomach Rabin’s longing and readiness to make peace…
So much light and so much darkness.
The rabbis tell us the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jew and Jew.
When I returned home from Israel I was bedridden for several days with a raging sinus infection. My doctor told me to stay in bed, so I did. But I was bored and I couldn’t concentrate because my head was pounding and I don’t watch much TV and I had no desire to binge watch House of Cards on Netflix.
So instead I found myself reading Facebook. I’ve got 3,000 “friends” and I began reading their posts. All of my friends condemned Hamas, viewing it as a terrorist organization. They all condemned the rockets fired at civilian populations and the terror tunnels. But as I dug further I saw that half my friends are staunch supporters of Israel who fully support the ground operation and the bombing of Hamas arsenals and tunnels. And the rest of my friends are also lovers of Israel but they want to see an end to the conflict and believe there will not be a military solution to the ongoing conflict with Hamas, only a political solution.
My “friends” are all well-meaning passionate people, but they are talking to one another in shockingly hateful, vengeful and disrespectful ways. I dream that one day the Jewish People can become a community that can be a safe haven for lovers of Israel to pray and hope for better days and a better world. We may have different beliefs about how to get there, but we can only get there together.
Perhaps today on Tisha B’av we will be granted the ability to see things with a bigger vision, beyond what the facts are on the ground. Where we can dream beyond what our minds tell us is impossible. Where a light from another world instills a huge vision in our very souls and we start believing and dreaming and prophesying about what is possible so we can begin taking the steps to achieve it.
We are so far from where we want to be and that hurts. We want an end to terror. We want an end to violence. We want an end to radicalism in Islam and in Judaism. We want an end to in fighting. We want an end to war. We don’t want innocent women and children to die in Gaza. We want peace.
Last week a little baby girl was born in Israel. Her parents are Ethiopian Jews. She is the first baby to be born of a fallen soldier in this conflict. The baby girl’s father, Ksahun, was killed when Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel in Israel planning an attack on Kibbutz Nir Am. The baby girl’s mother, Gleito, named her child “Tal Or” “The Light of Morning Dew,” meaning a promise of happier days to come. She added, “I named her Tal Or because I hope she brings us light.”
The baby’s uncle, Nissan, said: “Maybe I’m naïve, but I am hopeful that peace will come and that there will be no more war here and that Tal Or will never have to hold a weapon.” (I have quoted and paraphrased Tal Or’s story from this article in Jerusalem Online)
On this Tisha B’av let us hope for better days. Let us stand together in our differences and may Tal Or and all of us know peace soon in our day, Amen.