A Tisha B’Av Redux
Temple B’rith Kodesh
August 11, 2014 / 15 Av 5774
Tisha B’Av. It is the annual Jewish day of mourning and reflection, remembering the destruction of the first and second Jewish temples in Jerusalem. Over time “this” has come to include subsequent horrors visited upon the Jewish people including the Holocaust, the conflict in present day Gaza, and the growing anti-Jewish attitudes in France, Germany and other countries.
Some Jewish thinkers have made the case that these events should be not be so much mourned as celebrated.
Huh? This is really counter-intuitive. Why even suggest it?
Despite these hateful events neither the Jewish people nor the world would, in the best sense, be where (we) are today; despite anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and the violence these ideas have bred throughout history, the Jewish people still live.
I celebrate Tisha B’Av as a holy-day that reminds me of Jewish resilience. This is very different from celebrating the horrible events themselves. As a holy-day, Tisha B’Av, addresses what it means to be Jewish: to be resilient, courageous, loving, steadfast and forgiving, resourceful and stubborn, creative and inventive in the face of implacable and unjust circumstances. TB inspires us to respond to God’s command: engage in Tikkun Olam, repair and restore the world and protect the Jewish legacy Jews continually offer all people.
But what are we to make of the fix Jews and the Jewish state are in right now? The tit-for-tat mutual destruction going on in Gaza?
To begin to answer this I think we need to first review “how the world works”. And second, given this machinery, how have the Jewish people dealt with the lot we’ve been dealt?
For most of the world, and its history, war is how it works. Specifically we should ask what causes people to make war?
There are two predominant causes of war: property(resources) and philosophy (religion). Each appears to support the perception of human survival. If you don’t have land or resources you may become slaves or perhaps die. If your raison d’être is questionable, you don’t exist.
When your survival is threatened, the extremes clash and war ensues: “us vs. them”, “my way or the highway”. But when one combines both causes, in concert with the other, in a single conflict, the result is often especially brutal. And the winner always survives… at least in the relative short run.
Call these warring parties “Green” and “Blue”. The willingness of “Green” to dominate or destroy “Blue” occurs when the “Green” seems to be a clear and present threat to the existence of “Blue”. Thus, the willingness for “Green” to dominate and/or destroy “Blue”.
Use your own mental camera, now, and zoom in on Jewish history. In every instance where Jews have born the threat of extinction, at least one of these two causes, property and/or religion, has been at the root. Without exception.
The rise of Zionism, in the mid-19th into the 20th century, was the result of pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe then the Holocaust. These events spurred the drive for a Jewish homeland. The ostensible reason, but not the only one: if we had our own state, land, then none of this would have happened. Zionism proclaimed not only the right of Jews to have a homeland but also claim the Jews’ ancestral land, Israel.
The wars since Israel’s statehood have been fought over Israel’s right to exist, including both Intifadas and the recent rounds of violence. All were and are brutal.
But what prompted all this fighting?
Again, land and religion.
Do you remember the conclusion of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”? The families of a little village, Anatevka, are seen trudging down a road evacuating their homes with no single destination, like fingers spread from the palm. It is a tragic scene, often leaving audiences, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, broken hearted.
This scene is a metaphor for the history of the Jewish people. As mournful as this history is, it should paradoxically, be celebrated. Without these removals, escapes, murders, the diaspora there would be no “Jewish present”. The people of Anatevka carried “Israel” on their backs, the Torah, without which there would be no Jewish people or religion today.
Israel is not a thing, or a state of place. It is a state of mind. Our history proves this. Israel is always portable. It can never be taken from us (unless… we allow it and that is a subject for another D’var). In reality Judaism represents the ever present future, bound with hope. Some have said it, the future, is the real messiah, not just for Jews but for all humankind.
So, if we are not to repeat the violence of our past we should always be prepared to move …again and again. While certainly easier to say than do, we must be ready to trudge down that road and, perhaps, leave our community, the land while bravely cherishing and preserving and sharing the Israel we carry, for us and for all human kind.