Thoughts on Tisha B’av

Thoughts on Tisha B’av

The Jews are called the People of the Book. I like that title. It connotes a sense of seriousness, learnedness and a connection to a word and a history that passes from one generation to the next. The only problem with a book, especially one written in history, is it rarely describes tomorrow. When entrenched in our history such book cannot focus on hope for the future.

The Jewish people of the Book are a people that are wedded to history. And, much of our history is riddled with challenge and sorrow. We are a people that are quick to look back and hesitant to look forward. We have good reason. We were hated in almost every land we inhabited before 1776. We faced pogroms and slander and boycott and death all for our beliefs and the manner in which we expressed those beliefs. We pushed forward against the hatred and persevered. As such, we are hard wired to be a people of memory, pain and yesterdays.

One thing changed that: Israel.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

On November 29, 1947 the United Nations voted in favor of a partition plan of a strip of land in the Middle East to be divided amongst Israel and Palestine.  That date in history began a new dawn for Israel; a time of hope HaTikvah. In the wake of the Holocaust, the Jewish people – some committed to religious observance and some committed to culture and society – joined forces in solidarity and in arms to create a new land and a new opportunity in the hopes of realizing an age old dream.  At that moment, 62 years ago, we became a people of promise instead of desolation, we brought hope where there was once gloom, wholeness to a place of brokenness. That hope, promise and wholeness was fortified in June of 1967 when the small and nascent nation of Israel brought its avowed enemy neighbors to its knees in six miraculous days.

On the third day of the Six Day War, the paratroopers that advanced on the Old City in Jerusalem made the now famous declaration over the radio for all the troops to hear; Har HaBayit Beyadeinu! ““ The Temple Mount is in our control! It is ours again. For the first time in 2000 years, a Jewish holy site was returned to its Jewish hands again. Obviously, we were not about to start offering sacrifices again, but our connection to our past created a sense of exuberance for our future.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, z”l of blessed memory, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and during the Six Day War, the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, was with the troops throughout the first three days of battle and was with the paratroopers that entered the Old City and made its way to the Western Wall.
Rabbi Goren, in anticipation of the moment, took out his Shofar and blasted it in a clarion call of celebration. He then recited two prayers with slight changes; As Rabbi Goren prayed the afternoon prayer precisely at the appointed time, he inserted the prayer Nachem that is added during the holiday of Tisha B’av ““ commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Though, instead of reciting the verse that states Jerusalem – City of Mourning He changed it to Jerusalem, – the Liberated City. He then began to sing and dance with the soldiers, “This year in Jerusalem.

We are used to concluding our Seder and Neilah services with the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem.Rabbi Goren realized that the prayer of hope and opportunity had been answered and he became conscious of it by changing the words to represent the achievement. The prayers were alive and dynamic for him. The occasion required recognition and changing the liturgy to reflect the potency of the moment.

We can trace back our shared challenges to the time of being enslaved in Egypt, to wandering in the desert, to persecution by the Romans, expulsions by the Spaniards, pogroms by the Cossacks, being driven to the death chambers in Europe – and now we are here – Israel. The hope for tomorrow is today. We are in Jerusalem, now. Not next year, not last year. Now. Today.

So, why then do we still have a holiday of Tisha B’Av today? Why in the year 2010, more than 62 years after the establishment of the State of Israel and 43 years after Rabbi Goren’s Shofar blast at the walls of the Temple, do we still flock in droves to the walls of Jerusalem and sit low as mourners to remember a time of destruction of the Temple? Have we not obliterated the necessity for this holiday through the realization of Israel and Jerusalem? Are we only able to be a people of memory and pain? Have we become a people solely focused on history and sadness instead of hope and possibility?

The time has come for us – you and me, the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora – to write new chapters to the book that constitutes our people-hood. The time is now and the place, here, to continue and create a new narrative for our people. We no longer need to sit low while wearing sack cloth and recite dirges while fasting to commemorate a place once destroyed that we have since reclaimed and rebuilt and renewed. Today, we have an opportunity to return to that wall and offer Psalms of thanksgiving and praise and participate in feasts and bounties to celebrate our miracle, our home land, Israel.

Tonight, as I sat at the southern portion of the Western Wall and saw thousands of people holding candles and chanting from the book of Lamentations, a strange view was offered me. The candles and moon created shadows reflecting off the ancient stone wall. I am not a particularly touchy-feely person but, I was struck by the images I was witnessing. The shadows appeared like people dancing and moving, reading, singing and playing instruments.  Was this a shadow depicting our past or was this a fore-shadowing of the days to come? It is up to us to decide.

I ask you to join me and pick up a pen or a shovel or a computer – whatever tool you fancy – and begin to be a part of a new history, a new story, a new Hope for the Jewish people. May we continue in that direction until, our children come and read our book and then continue that history in their book, fashioning their shadows for future generations. May their history be like ours; full of appreciated miracles, unbridled opportunity and many blank pages?

Wishing you a meaningful Tisha B’Av from Jerusalem.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

Written on Tisha B’Av – 5770

Jerusalem, Israel