The (second) temple in Jerusalem, writes Rabbi Alan Lew (of blessed memory) in his excellent book This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, fell to the Romans not because of hatred between/among Jews (as the mishna would have it), but because Rome was so powerful that nothing could stand in its way. And surely the rabbis of the Talmud knew this about the Roman Empire. So why did they cast blame on the children of Israel? Why blame themselves for what was clearly beyond their power?
Lew's response rings in me like a shofar call. He writes that to spiritual leaders, the only question worth asking about any recurring catastrophe is: how am I complicit in this, and how can I keep it from happening again? This is true, of course, not only on a national level, but on a personal one, as well:
Spiritually we are called to responsibility, to ask, What am I doing to make this recur again and again? Even if it is a conflict that was clearly thrust upon me from the outside, how am I plugging in to it, what is there in me that needs to be engaged in this conflict? Why can't I just let it slough off me like water off a duck's back, as I am able to do with so many other things?
...Why do our relationships always fail in precisely the same way? Why do we always fall into the same kind of conflict at work? Why do we always have the same arguments with our children? With our parents? ...What is the recurring disaster in our life? What is the unresolved element that keeps bringing us back to this same moment over and over again? What is it that we keep getting wrong? What is it that we persistently fail to look at, fail to see?
Tisha b'Av is the day on which we are reminded of the calamity that keeps repeating itself in the life of our people. And against all reason -- against the overwhelming evidence of history -- Moses and the rabbis insist that we are not powerless in the face of that calamity. Moses and the rabbis insist that we take responsibility for what is happening to us. Moses and the rabbis insist that we acknowledge our complicity in the things that keep happening to us over and over again.
I don't know about you, but this is exactly what I needed to read today. (And apparently that too is something which recurs for me; I just read the post I wrote about this book back in 2006, seasonal teachings from Rabbi Alan Lew, and sure enough, one of the quotes I just lifted up is in that post, too...)
This is, I think, part of the hard work of teshuvah (repentance / return.) In order to make teshuvah, to turn myself in the right direction again, I need to be willing to take a good hard look at myself and my patterns. I need to take responsibility for whatever recurs for me emotionally and interpersonally. Which isn't to say that I alone am responsible for everything that unfolds, or that I should castigate myself for my failings -- that would be a dangerous misreading of the teachings of this season. But Tisha b'Av calls me, calls us, to recognize the ways in which we are complicit in the things which are broken in our lives.