The destruction of Jerusalem as remembered by Jews all over the world on the 9th of Av is somber and dramatic. Unlike the mourning practices for bereaved individuals which starts with intense mourning and morphs slowly into a new reality, mourning for the holy temple and city of Jerusalem grows in intensity.
As the three weeks before Tisha B’av commence we refrain from merriment, live music , haircuts and weddings, in the nine days we don’t eat meat or swim and we begin to neglect ourselves and then on ninth of Av itself we sit on the floor, read the vivid description of the destruction of Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations, rejecting food, drink, and the comfort of friendship itself.
We are inconsolable. The City of Jerusalem was a gem “ Is this the city that was called Perfect in Beauty, Joy to All the Earth” (Lamentation 2:15). Was the Temple destroyed due to “Sinat Chinam”- petty hatred? How did the citizens allow the situation to deteriorate to a point beyond redemption?
The book of Lamentations writes, “Your seers prophesied to you, Delusion and folly. They did not expose your iniquity So as to restore your fortunes, But prophesied to you oracles of delusion and deception.”(Lamentation 2:14). The book of Lamentations goes on with graphic descriptions of the environmental and the personal degradation that the destruction had on both individuals and on the Jewish nation. Institutional mourning rituals and Jewish memory have maintained Tisha B’Av now for over 2,000 years. We cry as if it happened yesterday.
In the book of Genesis we read of the creation of the earth. Day by day, heaven and earth, land and sea, flora and fauna and ultimately man. “ God said, “see I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon the earth and every tree that has seed bearing fruit…And all the animals on the land, and all the birds in the sky….And God saw all he had made and found it very good.”(Genesis 1:29). “And the Almighty took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to till it and tend it.” (Genesis 2:15). Each individual manifestation of creation is “perfect in beauty a joy to all the earth” (Lamentations 2:15).
Each creation when carefully examined is magnificent. A mountaintop, the thousand varieties of ferns and flowers, the mechanism of our kidneys and our eyes and the delicate balance between the elements should make us stop in awe and gratitude. But instead of an overwhelming sense of respect and care, we have pretty much trashed our precious planet.
Plastic bags glut our oceans, coral reefs are decimated, we have allowed ourselves to fall prey to “delusions and folly, delusions and deception” and now it is getting late. The planet is getting warmer, there are droughts that are causing havoc and hunger all over the world, glaciers are melting, the oceans are becoming more acidic and the seas are rising.
What if before Jerusalem was burned to the ground, what if men and women stopped listening to the seers of “deception and folly”? What if we had looked at ourselves and stopped the senseless hatred between people? Could we, would we have saved Jerusalem from burning?
And now,today, it is almost too late, can we stop hiding from reality, can we honestly face what we have done? Can we confront the consequences of our greed and carelessness?
On this Tisha B’Av should we both think of Jerusalem and look into ourselves and out into our public and private institutions and demand and work and lobby and live the change . Who will fast for the destruction of the ice caps, who will sit on the ground and cry for the islands that are flooded as the sea rises? Who will mourn for our mother (earth)?