Tisha b'Av is coming.
On the ninth day of the lunar month of Av -- on the Gregorian / secular calendar, that date is coming up this Saturday -- Jews around the world will gather in mourning. We will mourn the fall of the first Temple, destroyed by Babylon on 9 Av in 586 B.C.E. We will mourn the fall of the second Temple, destroyed by Rome on 9 Av in 70 C.E.
We will mourn our own shortcomings, as exemplified in the Talmudic teaching that the first Temple fell because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred -- or in the Biblical story of the scouts who, sent to get a first glimpse of the Promised Land, came back on 9 Av full of their own fears and as a result doomed their generation to wander in the wilderness.
We will mourn the beginning of the first Crusade which killed thousands of Jews and which began on (or near) 9 Av; the expulsion of Jews from England and, later, from Spain, both of which happened on (or near) 9 Av; and the Grossaktion (great deportation and mass extermination) from the Warsaw Ghetto, which likewise happened on 9 Av.
Some of us, on Tisha b'Av, will also be mourning the more generalized brokenness of creation; the damage done by humankind to humankind, whether in the destruction of a holy house of worship 2000 years ago or the destruction of Black churches in America today; the horrors of war throughout the centuries, from antiquity to Hiroshima to the present day.
Some of us, on Tisha b'Av, will also be mourning the brokenness of our earth and the fear that in our lust for fossil fuel we are destroying and burning our earth as surely as the holy Temple was destroyed. Some of us will also be mourning the brokenness in our hearts and in our relationships -- our own internal walls which have crumbled, our own shattered places.
On the secular / American calendar, this is the heart of summer; a fun season, a celebratory time. On the Jewish calendar, Tisha b'Av calls us to dip into awareness of mourning. It's a little bit like the glass we break at every wedding -- a reminder that even in our times of greatest joy, somewhere in the world there still exist brokenness and sorrow.
Tradition also teaches that on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av, when we are most deeply immersed in sorrow and grief, the seeds of redemption are planted. One midrash holds that moshiach, the messiah, will be born on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av. It's like in the Greek myth of Pandora which I loved as a child: there is hope at the bottom of the box.
As Tisha b'Av approaches
We begin our descent
toward the rubble.
Our hearts crack open
and sorrow comes flooding in.
Help us to believe
that tears can transform,
that redemption is possible.
The walls will come down:
open our eyes, give us strength
not to look away.
The above poem was originally posted in 2012, and will appear in my forthcoming collection
Open My Lips, due later this year from Ben Yehuda Press.