July 14, 2021
Beyond Tisha B'Av - Gratitude for Abundance
What comes to mind if I ask you to list some Jewish holidays? Maybe first Chanukah or Purim or Pesach? Maybe Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. Shabbat? How about Tisha B'Av? Tisha B'Av is this coming Saturday night and Sunday, the 9th day of the month of Av. It probably was not the first thing on your list or on the list most of us would make.
Tisha B'Av is so little known that your first question might be "How do I pronounce that?" In modern Hebrew, it would be two words, each with two syllables, each accented on the second syllable, so TeeSHAH b'AV. The Yiddish/Eastern European pronunciation would be one word of three syllables, accented on the first, so TISH-uh-buv.
Tisha B'Av, however you pronounce it, is a commemoration and day of mourning for losses we have suffered as the People Yisrael, most notably the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Each calamity is said to have occurred on the 9th day of Av, and other disasters also are associated traditionally with that date. Loss and the process of grief for loss are important, and naturally those who came before us have provided us a day, Tisha B’Av, to really feel loss. We as a community and each of us individually have suffered losses over the last 17 months. The pain of loss is real, and the grief is real.
Also real is anxiety about emerging into whatever it is that our community, our country and the world is becoming. This, too, is a theme of Tisha B’Av - our lives are threatened and we experience being refugees, forced into new places and ways of being. There is uncertainty and the many challenges of reintegrating. It seems to me that there are two primary paths to dealing with the resultant anxiety. These are the paths of Balak and of Bilaam from the Torah portion we read a few weeks ago.
Balak’s path takes us to a place where we look out and see scarcity, a pie with an insufficient number of pieces, a world of competitors and antagonists. That path, I submit, will lead to more anxiety and anger, a focus on our rights in world full of people we too easily label as undeserving "Other", in a word, hatred. The Rabbis teach that it was our "senseless hatred" for each other that led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, which we remember on Tisha B'Av.
The other path takes us to the lookout and the outlook of Bilaam, rather than Balak. Bilaam saw us massed on the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho, and said "Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkanotecha Yisrael", "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your dwelling places, Israel". We can peak out at the world being reborn right now and see how abundant and rich our lives are. We see our place as a place of responsibilities one for another, a place of gratitude for what we have and what we can share. That is the path that I want to take from loss and grief into the becoming world. Please join me on that path.
And please join us at CBI at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday (the 17th), Erev Tisha B'Av. We will sing a brief version of the weekday evening service, light a candle in lieu of Havdalah, and then together read in English the Book of Lamentations, the Biblical depiction of our exile that is read on Tisha B'Av. We will intersperse the chapters of Lamentations with nigunim and time for reflection.
With blessings for a week of peace and good health,