We Are the Foundation, the Brick and the Mortar
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed twice—once ~2,500 years ago and after it was rebuilt, ~2,000 years ago again. Nowadays we mourn its destruction and the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel on Tisha B’Av (9th of the Hebrew month of Av) which falls tomorrow night through Sunday.
And for many Jews the big question is: That’s sad… but… why should I mourn for a centralized Temple, a sacrificial system (lots of animal slaughtering and blood!), a Priestly aristocracy (by the end quite corrupt) as co-leaders of the Jewish people with the Rabbis?
Many years ago while leading the Katz Israel Fellows Program I observed Tisha B’Av in Israel and heard an Orthodox rabbi observe: “We all pray daily for the rebuilding of the Temple, but in fact, if it happened, it would be a disaster! Think about it—would the High Priest be Ashkenazi or Sephardi?” And the whole congregation shook their heads ruefully as they recognized the Temple would just become another politicized institution.
And to top it all off, today we have a Jewish State, which means Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel—what point is there in observing Tisha B’Av?
Yes, it was another horrible tragedy for the Jewish people and like others we mark, we should remember. And yes, many Jews died and were exiled and we should remember their pain.
But is there anything more for you and me to connect with Tisha B’Av today?
For me, the answer is a qualified “yes!”
I’ll admit I’m not hoping and praying for a rebuilt Temple with a sacrificial system and reinstatement of a Priestly aristocracy.
But Tisha B’Av is a moment in time where we as Jews should stop and reflect. Essentially that is what all our holy days and life cycle celebrations are for (and I’d argue even most of our mitzvot).
Today, more than ever before, taking time for reflection is a rare and precious gift!!! So what does Tisha B’Av help us reflect on? A number of important themes— one of which is the interplay between Community and Loneliness.
Our parsha this week is Devarim (Deuteronomy), the first of the last book of the Torah, and we see in chapter 1:12 the use of the word “Eicha,” an exclamation often translated as “How” or “Alas.” Today, we might say, “OY!” or in some countries “AY!”
In Devarim, it’s used when Moshe (Moses) recaps his travails leading the Israelites and recalls how he was overwhelmed leading the people and said: “How [Eicha] can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!”
Centuries later, following the destruction of the First Temple, the prophet Yeremiyahu (Jeremiah) is reputed to have written the book (really a scroll, there were no ‘books’ as we know them back then) of Lamentations, which in Hebrew is known as “Eicha” after its very first word: “Alas! [Eicha] Lonely sits the city once great with people!”
In Devarim we really hear Moshe’s internal voice crying out. As a leader, he is alone…as every leader ultimately is. As any parent, school headmaster, business owner, president (etc…etc…) always-- in the end-- is. It really is lonely at the top.
And in Lamenations/Eicha we really hear the Jewish people’s voice crying out through Yeremiyahu. As a nation, they/we were alone…as every nation that stands for something ultimately is when it takes a stand. It’s sometimes really lonely being part of the Jewish people.
That is why we are so communal and that’s why we need a sense of community in our lives.
Remember the shock you felt when something horrible happened in your life and you went outside only to see people going about their own lives as if nothing had happened? EICHA! How can it be that the world keeps turning even when for us time has stopped?!?
And then (G!D willing) comes the embrace of family and friends and community…to remind us to keep living, to keep struggling to understand, to keep working for a better tomorrow.
Our tradition teaches us that as a Jew we are never alone—the community is always there for us.
But of course, that doesn’t happen unless we lay the foundations of a strong community when things are okay so it’s there when things aren’t and we need it.
So this Tisha B’Av let’s pause and reflect on the true existential loneliness we feel as human beings and particularly in modern times and realize that the community is there for us, if we let it and support it.
Then Eicha [Alas!] can become “Eich” [How!]—how great it is, how blessed we are, how many people care.