Listening to Jeremiah

Listening to Jeremiah

I write this on Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the Jewish month of Av, when traditional Jews spend the day fasting and contemplating the sins that led to the two devastating destructions of Jerusalem.

We sit on the floor and read the book of Lamentations, as well as elegies composed throughout the past 2,000 years in response to that central catastrophe and the pogroms, Crusades, and Holocaust that came in its wake.

Lest anyone think our ancient history has no contemporary relevance, I invite you to read today’s headlines from Ynet News:

“Shortly before 8 a.m., Code Red rocket alert sirens blared through many areas of the country. Rockets were fired at the Gaza border communities, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Gan Yavne, Ma’aleh Adumim, the Shfela area, Rishon LeZion and Rehovot.… Rocket shrapnel from one of the intercepted rockets fell in a main street in Jerusalem.”

Because of the fast day, morning services here in Ma’aleh Adumim and in many other Israeli cities were scheduled later than usual, for 8 a.m. And so it was that as we were opening our prayer books, an air-raid siren pierced the quiet of this piece of paradise a mere few miles east of the Temple Mount – the place where the heart of our nation beat until it was stilled by the Babylonians and then the Romans.

This morning’s liturgy includes a reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Written more than 2,600 years ago, it was eerily appropriate for this very morning, when Israel’s agreement to a ceasefire brought us a barrage of 17 missiles.

“We hoped for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror.” Two terror attacks rocked Jerusalem yesterday afternoon, and this morning rockets were fired on the holy city.

“The summer is past, the harvest is ended; and we are not saved.” Missiles have damaged the hothouses of Israel’s southern breadbasket and killed a foreign agricultural worker. Only yesterday, as I searched in vain for a fresh head of lettuce at the local supermarket, high-level meetings were held to discuss how Israeli farmers might be compensated for this summer’s ruined harvest.

“The carcasses of men shall fall like dung on the open field, and like sheaves after the reaper, with none to gather them.” The families of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin grieve without even the small consolation of having their sons’ bodies properly shrouded and buried.

Jeremiah does not only lament the horror and destruction. As a spokesman for God, his job is to remind the people why this is happening and what they must do to alleviate the suffering.

“Because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them, and have not hearkened to my voice, nor walked by it.” We are told that the first Temple was destroyed as a result of the cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder, and the second Temple because of intolerance and hatred.

If there is one bright spot to report on this sad morning, it is undoubtedly the unprecedented unity of spirit we have been witnessing throughout Operation Protective Edge.

Nobody is foolish enough to believe that Hamas will lay down its arms or its genocidal raison d’etre just because our army destroyed most of its terror tunnels and withdrew the IDF ground troops from Gaza.

But perhaps it is reasonable to expect that our renewed unity will have ripple effects both here and in the cosmos toward better things to come. It is within our power to make it happen, says Jeremiah. If the Jews of his time had not failed to heed his words, we would not be sitting on the floor in bomb shelters this morning, millennia later.

We can take comfort from the prophet’s promise on behalf of God – turned into a beautiful popular song by Israeli musician Idan Raichel three years ago – that our future is indeed bright despite the matriarch Rachel’s tears for her exiled children and our tears today.

“I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.… Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded.… There is hope for your future, says the Lord, and your children shall return to their borders.”

From Ma’aleh Adumim to wherever these words reach you, I extend my wish that by this time next Av, we will all be dancing, carefree, in the streets of Jerusalem together.