Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tisha B'Av: Remembering the Past to Bring About a Better Future

Tisha B'Av has been one of those holidays where it's really hard to get into "the spirit of things." The primary premise behind the holiday is to remember various catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people, most importantly the destruction of the First and Second Temples (בית המקדש). Getting sad over a ritual that most Jews, including myself, consider an "ancient relic" makes something like Tisha B'Av seem insipid. What's more is that this mourning process is counterintuitive.

How so? I analogize Tisha B'av to shiva (שבעה), which is the mourning process for the loss of a certain individual. The shiva process is most intense at its beginning and wanes in intensity as time passes. Not so with Tisha B'Av. Depending on your take, it has either intensified or maintained its intensity over the centuries. In either case, it hasn't lessened. Some are of the opinion that there was something wonderful about the days when there was a Temple. Why else would so many blessings in the Amidah be focused on the Temple? On the other hand, is it politically feasible to worry about building the Third Temple, especially when there is a mosque sitting on it? Is the Temple supposed to be more than just a building?

I want to return to my main point, which is we should approach Tisha B'Av much like we approach shiva. As time passes, we move on, we move forward. Even when we are in the intense stages of mourning, we don't say that "they're in a better place;" we honor their memories and remember how they lived. The remembering part is important. We remember the Exodus from Egypt. It happened 3,000 years ago. Yet we still have those biblical passages written on the scrolls of our tefillin. We are reminded it in our prayer books and during the kiddush for Shabbat. We even have a holiday for it: Passover.

Remembering is key. Without it, not only do we repeat history, but we lose our connection to the past. However, invoking memories is insufficient. We also have to honor the loss. Why?

Talk + No Action = Cheap

Talk + Action = Progress

As I pointed out last year, there is still a reason for Jews to lament and observe Tisha B'Av. I would like to now use that as a starting point and figure out how some ways to translate that sorrow into productive action.

For those of you Jews who are of the more religious persuasion, I am sure you will be mourning for the loss of the Temple. However, rather than show despair, we can think of ways to making messianic prophecy more of a reality. If it's in the narrow focus of restoring the Temple, think about making that possible.

Tisha B'Av can be inspiring on a Zionist level, which could either be reading some of the messianic prophecies more broadly or simply being Zionist. Israel is surrounded by enemies hellbent on her destruction, not to mention having to deal with internal quarreling. Israel can use all the help possible. We can work, either as individuals or as organizations, to improve upon the State of Israel, especially for those of us who are living outside of Israel. Donate money to Israel. Buy Israeli bonds. Advocate for Israel, even if it's using social media such as Facebook. By improving Israel, the ascent can be high enough where Israel can return to the "glory days" that are greatly missed by those who feel a sense of nostalgia during Tisha B'Av.

Being able to enact change on a domestic or international level might be too difficult for many, which is why some might look at Tisha B'Av on the individual level. It was the lashon hara and sinat chinam (needless hatred) of many individuals that brought down the Second Temple. Have Tisha B'Av be a day not just for studying Lamentations, but also for studying speech ethics or middot (character traits) such as loving-kindness or generosity. Although it's not bringing about world peace, at least it's about changing the world for those within your sphere of influence.

No matter how you decide to observe Tisha B'Av this year, may it bring you meaning!

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