Today is the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, a national day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and all of the tragedies the Jewish nation has gone through since then.
One of the ways we mark the day is by fasting. Not all fasting is alike. It is said that on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) no one would want to eat and on the ninth of Av no one feels like eating. Why? On Yom Kippur, the holiest day, we feel like heavenly angels. We aren’t at all interested in eating. Even though all year round we believe that spirituality is to be found in the physical world, just one day a year – on the Day of Atonement – we remove ourselves from physicality.
And on the ninth of Av? – Even though all year we need to smile at one another, just one day a year – today we feel alienated and sad. Just as an individual mourns after a tragic loss the Jewish people mourn as a nation. We fast because we’re too upset to eat. But are we really upset? We get jaded. Flooded and over-stimulated by events we lose touch with our feelings. Our innermost core can’t be reached for comment.
In our synagogue we sit in a circle as the congregants take turns explaining one of the kinot (laments recalling Jewish destruction). The most meaningful ninth of Av for me was the year 2001. That year was unusual because every single person who spoke got emotional. I thought that I would be different, but sure enough when my turn to explain came around I too, broke down and cried. That year we had seen a lot of Arab terror. Particularly horrific was the murder of Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishran who were pummeled to death with big rocks so that only dental x-rays could identify their bodies. We identified. We felt the Temple’s destruction in our kishkes.
Getting in touch with that sense of loss in the present made the past come to life. If we erase the time element, the Temple with all it represents – a world united under one God – is burning now.
Whether it was the Babylonians who sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. or the second Temple destroyed in 70 C.E. or the burning of Torah scrolls in 18th century France or the Holocaust in WWII or the Merkaz Harav yeshiva high school students buried with their bloodied Torah books. It’s all the same. The destruction and tragedies of the past really are happening now.
More importantly, the corruption in Israeli politics and Supreme court, notably the Holy Land affair – is the same corruption now as then. The indifference to citizens driven out of their homes and business in Gush Katif – is the same indifference now as then. The non-acceptance – where the ultra-orthodox refusal to accept converts is actually a blanket non-acceptance of the legitimacy of the Zionist-religious – is the same non-acceptance now as then. The fierce, devout religiosity devoid of sensitivity for fellow human beings – “Who asked you to trample my courts bringing sacrifices? Have compassion for the widow and orphan! Do justice!” – is the same now as it was then. The prophet was not only speaking to people living at another time and another place. He was speaking to us!
Our past is tied to our present and our present leads to our future. It’s time we started hearing the voice of the prophet and feeling true sensitivity for one another.