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Tisha B'Av: Despair and Hope Intertwined

07/01/2022 08:47:33 AM


Rabbi Ezray

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells the story of Napoleon, once passing a synagogue on the somber day of Tisha B’Av, who was struck by sounds of crying and wailing emanating from inside the building. “What are the Jews mourning?” he asked one of his officers. “They are grieving for Jerusalem,” came back the reply. “And how long ago did the Jews lose Jerusalem?” asked Napoleon. “More than 1700 years ago,” the soldier answered. Napoleon was quiet for a moment and then said softly, “A people that remembers a place for so long will one day have it restored to them.”

This story captures the intertwining of sadness and hope which defines Tisha B’Av, which will be commemorated on Saturday, August 6, beginning at 8:00 pm. There is no sadder day than Tisha B’Av.  On it, we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and a long list of other tragedies that occurred on that date. We fast, sit on the floor, read the book of Eicha and grieve together. And amidst this sadness, we reflect on what goodness might be beyond the horizon of that sadness.

The three weeks before Tisha B’Av, we read a series of readings from the prophets, haftarot, where the prophets excoriate our people for their behavior, particularly idolatry, which will result in destruction.  Yet these same prophets imagine hope and rebirth, reflecting a belief that setback and tragedy is not permanent and that we can always hold onto hope. I know that this message has spoken to our community deeply. While we lament gun violence, political polarization, threats to democracy, violence throughout the world; we hold onto the prophetic vision of a better future, both individually and collectively. It is not a message of false hope or blind optimism; it is a message of responsibility to create a different world and never despairing the possibility of a different future.

Together we read the book of Lamentations, which begins with the words: “Behold the city which dwells alone.” We feel the loneliness and desolation the text describes. The words feel so real. And while we hold onto the despair that is real, picturing the vision of Isaiah 1, where the prophet describes how the city and its inhabitants have abandoned sacred values; we remember that this same prophet in Isaiah 2 pictures the nations gathering at the holy mountain in Jerusalem to hear the word of God. The vision of peace and turning weapons of destruction and war into tools for producing food, we hold onto hope!

Rabbi Sacks, of blessed memory, wonders how the prophets could hold onto gloom and hope at the same time. His response is their faith in God’s vision that we will never be destroyed animated and defined them. They felt God’s pain and internalized God’s vision of what will be.

Please join us as we give voice to this unique message that what has been lost must both be remembered, studied, and ultimately regained.  Beyond the immediate horizon of history is room to envision hope and work to bring it into being. Hope has allowed us to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Hope will allow us to mend amidst the confusing, difficult times in which we live by grounding us in love of one another.

Mon, August 15 2022 18 Av 5782