I know I’ve already posted for this week, and I also know I didn’t write anything about Tisha B’Av. I wasn’t going to. But I changed my mind.
I’m ambivalent about Tisha B’Av. I used to fast for this day. I wasn’t raised to do so, but somewhere around college, I started fasting on Tisha B’Av, and it’s a tough fast – long summer day, often hot, not able to sit in synagogue and let the time go by, but usually working, and for a few years, as a camp counselor. A very slow fast.
Lately, I’ve stopped fasting. I have had a hard time relating to the story of Tisha B’Av, relating to the insistent narrative of all the horrible things that have happened to us in the past. Bemoaning the loss of the Temple? As a rabbi friend of mine says, “Get over it.” Maybe that sounds drastic, but if you want to go live in the Land, you can, and if you don’t, then don’t. we don’t need the Temple rebuilt to make aliyah. The Messianic vision of a Third Temple doesn’t capture me either; there’s plenty to do around here, right now, in this world, for me to spend energy thinking about the Next One.
To ascribe so many other catastrophes to have happened on this one day, I find it stretching credulity. So I don’t. Why do we have to work so hard to make our history fit into nice, neat little “coincidences”? Does that make the catastrophes less, um, catastrophic? No.
There is only one possible reason I can still accept for this commemoration, which goes back to the Talmudic idea that the Second Temple was destroyed for sinat chimam (baseless hatred.) Jews at the time were in such communal discord, that God destroyed the Temple to get their attention. It worked. It still has our attention, thousands of years later. Not that there’s less hatred.
A couple of years, I wrote about this in relation to this week’s parasha, Dvarim. I mentioned that Moses was trying to get a definitive story down, to the people, before they embark on their journey across the Jordan, basically ending one journey and beginning another. It seems he wanted them to have a common narrative; then I wrote how I couldn’t imagine our Jewish community now having a common narrative – the divisions are so deep.
Not much has changed. We still don’t have a common narrative, and even worse, we don’t seem to want to find common ground at all. Not in with our other Americans, not with our fellow Jews. It seems we seek out those who already agree with us, and establish our own common ground, and the pie we share gets sliced into smaller and smaller pieces.
The great rabbis of the Sanhendrin, the Great Court, had it right. They argued “for the sake of Heaven”. They valued respected each other’s opinions, even if they disagreed vehemently.
I still don’t know if I will fast on Sunday. If I do, it will be because I’m focusing on the effort of bringing voices together, finding at least some commonality in our identities, in holding back the destructive tsunami of sinat chinam. This wave of hatred, of intolerance, of insidious contamination of souls, will bring down our communities, frankly both American and Jewish. None of us is listening to each other. None of us bothers to even care about not listening to each other.
So. On Sunday. If you choose to fast, do so in the name of reducing hatred between your own little slice of the pie and someone else’s. Seek out someone whose opinions are different from yours. Discuss. Don’t yell. Don’t even try to change their opinion. Just listen. Try to understand. Try to get them to understand you. Use the fast to starve your own preconceptions. Use the fast to divert nourishment into understanding and tolerance. Break down a wall, or at least, take a brick down. Then maybe….maybe….with all those bricks and walls that divide us, we can build that Third Temple, with open hearts, open souls and open strength.
Shabbat shalom, and may this Tisha B’Av be the last we share with sinat chinam in our midst.