Another mother poem: messages
A mother poem for Shabbat Nachamu: Comforter

Tisha b'Av and sounds of sorrow

The fallen stones date to the destruction of the second temple.

Tisha b'Av begins tonight at sundown. 

At the end of last year's post about the day -- Three scenes from Tisha b'Av -- I touched on the teaching from Talmud (tractate Yoma) that the second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam / senseless hatred (usually understood as hatred between Jews) and listed some of last year's egregious examples. It saddens me that I can reprise that teaching now with some of this year's instances of Jews being hateful to Jews: Anat Hoffman's recent arrest in Jerusalem for the "crime" of carrying a Torah scroll near the Kotel, the passage of a new conversion bill in the Israeli Knesset which gives the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate increased authority over who is considered a "real" Jew in the land of Israel. (That bill has troubling implications indeed.) Obviously we haven't solved the problem of sinat chinam quite yet.

My classmate Jonathan Zasloff has written an essay entitled What are you doing for assarah b'av? (Assarah b'av is the 10th of Av, the day which follows the mournful 9 Av.) He writes:

The time has come for us to acknowledge the dirty little secret of Tisha B’Av: the destruction of the Temple was one of the best things ever to happen to the Jewish people.

His essay is intentionally provocative, I think, but he's right that many blessings have arisen out of the paradigm shift occasioned by the Temple's fall. I've written before about the wondrous flowerings of post-Temple Judaism: rabbinic Judaism, diaspora Judaism, today's many-splendored variations on our religious theme. These are among the births which that death made possible. I have no yearning to restore temple sacrifice.

But I still find meaning in Tisha b'Av. Because we've all experienced the fall of walls and the destruction of something we loved. And once a year, together, we relive that experience -- we go down as a community into that pit of despair -- in order to remember that devastation and then rise up again. The spiritual work of the coming month of Elul, during which we prepare ourselves for the Days of Awe and strive to make teshuvah (to re/turn toward our Source), has a different valance when we come to it bearing the memories of a day of deep communal sorrow. Judaism calls us not to shy away from what hurts, but to confront it, to go deep into it -- and then to make our way out of it. This is part of our spiritual life too.

The destruction of the Temple so long ago may not feel relevant to some of us today, especially to we who prize the Diaspora Judaism which arose as a result of the Temple's fall. It's easy to argue that the fall of the Temple was a necessary birth-pang of the new paradigm. But I don't think Tisha b'Av is "just" about what happened then. Buildings fall and suffering continues in our own day, too. Via this post at Jewschool last year I learned about Rabbi Irwin Kula's recording of 9/11 voicemails -- from those on the planes, from those at the World Trade Center -- using Eicha trope [mp3], the traditional cantillation used for the Book of Lamentations which we read today in our 9 Av commemorations.

Above is an embedded media player which will allow you to listen to R' Kula's voicemail chanting. If you're reading this via an aggregator or via email and can't see the embed, you can go directly to the recording here.

Part of what makes the recording so devastating is the profound ordinariness of the messages. The little things we say to one another when we don't know the end is coming. Of course, I'm primed to find this melody especially poignant -- but I imagine it might resonate even for those who've never heard Eicha before. And these messages of sorrow, chanted in Eicha trope, give me a different perspective on the deaths chronicled in Lamentations -- and the needless deaths happening even now.

May listening to these words add power to your Tisha b'Av observance. May we together descend into darkness...and find our way again, by tomorrow's end, into the light.