It's Tisha B'Av
Saying, "It's Tisha B'Av" is a little like saying, "It's 9/11." Tisha = 9th. Av is the month we are in. It's a date. This date is the major day of communal mourning in the Jewish calendar. The. If you haven't heard of it, I get it, and it might be the biggest day you've never heard of.
A long list of disasters are remembered on this day, but especially the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E.
In Eicha, also known as Lamentations, there is a graphic (extremely graphic, horrors beyond most of our worst nightmares) description of the destruction of the Temple. This wasn't just a tearing down of a building. Imagine humanity brought to our very lowest - our most hopeless - or most despairing - with good cause. Now imagine it . . . worse. Or just go read Lamentations. Read it slowly.
Many of you know I'm rather enamored with Esther, the Purim protagonist. She lived just a few generations later, long enough that many people may have forgotten, no one still alive of the generation who had survived the destruction and the exile, lots of people outside the Jewish community - and maybe inside - thought the Jews should have long-since gotten over it . . . but it was not actually long enough to get over it. How long would be long enough, anyway? And, by the way, the people were still in exile. Tisha B'Av and Purim are connected. Hold onto that with me for a moment.
Why do we still mourn today?
Why do I still mourn?
Why do I fast?
Yes, we have the State of Israel.
But if, as we are taught, Sinat Chinam - baseless, wonton hatred - caused the destruction of the Temple, there is something still missing in this return to the Land. I'm not talking about the Temple. I'm talking about whatever it is that heals baseless, wonton hatred and gives it no place to settle. I'm talking about the true remedy for one exile not being the exile of someone else. And no, I don't know how to heal those wounds. I do know how to feel them. That missing thing is also missing in our communities in the diaspora - even if we should say, I think in error, that vibrant Jewish life doesn't need Israel anyway.
Contrary to comedic thinking, we Jews are not always wallowing in our troubles. Sure, that's funny, and it rings with a certain sense of familiarity, but it's not actually true. No more true than that every Jewish event involves food. Some - like today - involve food's absence. If it were true, our calendar would not have balance, and one of the most beautiful things about the Jewish year is its balance.
Today we have Tisha B'Av, when we hold in our hearts both the beaches in Tel Aviv and the bustle of a Jerusalem market and also the single standing wall of our Temple, our history of exile, and the pain of our neighbors a portion of which we must take responsibility for. On the other side of the year we will have Purim, when we embrace survival and celebrate with revelry, and also remember this history and feel again how precarious the bonds between people can be. Not everything has to be good for not everything to be bad.
For me, my physical hunger and thirst in this day is a constant reminder of my spiritual hunger and thirst all the time. My hunger for compassion and justice, my thirst for a true remedy for the exile - a remedy that builds without also destroying. I don't know if it is possible, but I am hungry and thirsty for it, all the same. For a world in which the ancient text of Eicha - of Lamentations - doesn't read like the news.
You need not be fasting to be hungry. Or thirsty.
Today, on Tisha B'Av, take a moment to think about the things the world needs that you are hungry and thirsty for. Tonight, as the sun sets, choose a small corner of one thing. And tomorrow, take an action.
One thing I will be doing:
I have run out of the water bottles and protein bars I keep in my car. Tomorrow I will restock them so when I come upon a person along the side of the highway I have something to offer along with eye contact and a moment to be seen. A practice I learned from my friend Kiely who has the best heart I know. It won't rebuild the Temple, but something is always more than nothing.