Megillat Covid at Builders Blog

MegillatCovid

One of the things we do at Bayit is share curated resources and spiritual tools for "building Jewish." Our latest is Megillat Covid -- a collection of five offerings for Tisha b'Av, written in and for this time of pandemic.

Megillat Covid comprises five readings / prayers / variations on Eicha (Lamentations). One was written by me, one by Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz who is the editor of the CCAR Press, one by liturgist and poet devon spier, one by liturgist and poet Trisha Arlin, and one by my fellow Bayit co-founder Rabbi Evan Krame. Each looks at Lamentations and at the pandemic through its own unique lens, and I am honestly humbled and moved to be able to curate such a meaningful resource in this moment. 

Here's an excerpt from each of our five pieces; you can click through to Builders Blog to read each of our poems in full.

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Crying Out by R’ Rachel Barenblat draws on images from the pandemic and asks the question: who will we be when the pandemic is gone? Here is a brief excerpt (you can read the whole piece in the PDF file at Builders Blog):

Lonely sits the city once great with people —
her subways now empty, her classrooms closed.
Refrigerator trucks await the bodies of the dead
wrapped in sheets of plastic and stacked like logs.
Mourners keep a painful distance, unable to embrace…

Along the Lines of Lamentations by R’ Sonja K. Pilz is similar to a cento (a poem that repurposes lines from another poem), as it consists primarily of quotations from Eicha, re-contextualized by their juxtaposition and by this pandemic season. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF at Builders Blog):

We were laid waste (2:5).
We were stripped liked a garden;
Ended have Shabbat and festivals (2:6).
Our gates have sunk into the ground (2:9).
Elders sit silently;
Women bow their heads to the ground (2:10).
My eyes are spent;
My being melts away (2:11)….

Jeremiahs without a jeremiad by devon spier offers fragmented lines evoking our fragmented hearts in this time of pandemic. About her contribution, devon writes:

To be used to cultivate an embodied COVID megillah reading that honours the fall of Jerusalem and the ebb and flow of our bodies in the months of the Coronavirus and related social distancing. 

To honour that for those of us with pre-existing conditions (our own frail, flimsy, fabulous humanness, our addictions, chronic health issues, years of unfelt griefs suddenly flung to the surface…each of these), we can wrap our whole selves in the scroll of this weeping day. And we can arrive, just as we are.

I would frame this as a kavannah as lines of ketuvim (lines of poetical post-exilic writings) the speaker can read before beginning chanting to set an intention. Or, the lines of this work could also be read throughout the chanting, as the verses I cite appear throughout the first chapter of Eicha. 

‘V’ha-ikar…” and the essence: Pause for the moments you feel the most human. Feel. And insert the words of this piece exactly where you are. From the lines of this intention and a gentle remembrance on this solemn day where we still face ourselves, our ancestors, our communities and each other, in and beyond, always, with hope: “Jerusalem is me is you.”

Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF at Builders Blog):

lamentations
for those with pages
of unwritten loss
lamenting
Jerusalem
and everything else
they never had
but Are
somehow
we are…

Alas by Trisha Arlin evokes the full journey of Eicha, from weeping for the city in distress to remembrance and the promise of change. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF at Builders Blog):

…Eating, Sleeping, Walking
Alone
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Alone
Coughing, Crying, Dying
Alone

Alas, loneliness!
I am so frightened.
I weep and who will hear me?…

Remember by Rabbi Evan Krame evokes the end of Lamentations, beseeching God to remember us and to let us return. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

God! Remember what we had? Consider and see our situation!
Our future went to strangers, our houses no refuge.
We are like orphans, without a leader, our mothers worry like widows…

Read the whole thing here: Megillat Covid at Builders Blog.


Who's to blame?

Depositphotos_5078728_original-300x336"These are the words that Moshe addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan..." (Deuteronomy 1:1)

The book of Deuteronomy is in large part a retelling of everything that happened during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. It's Moshe's farewell speech. Before they cross the river into the Land of Promise, he reminds them where they've been and what they've done.

And notably, in Moshe's retelling, everything becomes the Israelites' fault. Even God's decision that Moshe will not enter the Land of Promise. Remember that the first time we read that story, God said that because Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it gently, he would not enter the Land. God didn't say anything about blaming it on the children of Israel -- but that's how Moshe retells it.

Now, we could have a whole conversation about what the striking-the-rock thing means, and whether it's fair, and how we understand it. But what really jumps out at me this year is how, in the retelling, Moshe blames his situation on the Israelites for being quarrelsome and for having insufficient faith in God. He places all the blame on someone else.

This Shabbat -- the one right before Tisha b'Av, our communal day of mourning -- is called Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision. It invites us to turn our vision inward. To notice how we retell the stories of our lives, and where we elide responsibility. It's a very human thing to do. It's normal. Even Moshe does it, in this week's parsha. And... it's a pattern we need to break.

Where do we fall into the trap of blaming others? Do we look at our body politic and blame those who voted for the "other side," or those who didn't vote at all? Or closer to home: where our family systems might have some dysfunction, do we blame it on the other members of the family without looking at how our own actions contribute to recurring patterns? 

That's normal. It's human. And I believe that authentic spiritual life asks us to do better. It asks us to take responsibility.

Rabbi Alan Lew z"l teaches that the journey of teshuvah -- of repentance and return -- begins with the low point of Tisha b'Av. Then the updraft of this spiritual work carries us through the Days of Awe and into who we'll be in the year to come. He teaches that every year the seasonal calendar calls us to face our unconscious patterns and the recurring issue in our lives.

On Tisha b'Av we remember the fall of the Temples. Rabbi Lew points out that in a historical sense, the Temples fell because of massive military might -- first Babylon, then Rome. But our spiritual tradition ignores that.

Our spiritual tradition teaches that the first Temple fell because of idolatry, sexual immorality (which I understand as unethical boundary-crossing), and bloodshed, and the second Temple fell because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. These teachings ask us to take responsibility for our part in what happens to us. It asks us to take responsibility for what happens to our community.

I have a lot of empathy for Moses. He's been leading the children of Israel through the wilderness for forty years, and they've often been ungrateful and quarrelsome and afraid. I have empathy... and I wonder what would have happened if he'd retold their story in a way that recognized the community's struggles and took responsibility for his part in their imperfect situation. If instead of saying, "I don't take responsibility at all," he'd emphasized that we're all responsible for how our community functions, how might Torah's story have been different?

And what happens if we tell our story that way? If we tell the story of our community -- our shul, our county, our nation, our world -- with the assumption that we all take responsibility? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z"l taught that "one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."

May this Shabbat Hazon move us to see our responsibility for each other, and with that vision, to build a better world.

This is the d'varling I offered at Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat services this Friday night. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)

 


Approaching Tisha b'Av in a year that feels like Tisha b'Av all the time

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Tisha b'Av, Jewish tradition's communal day of mourning, is coming soon.

It usually feels disjunctive to take Tisha b'Av's deep dive into grief and exile in the midst of the summer, the season I love most in the year. Many years it takes some intention and some spiritual work to connect with loss and destruction at this time of year. But this year is different. This whole pandemic year feels to me like Tisha b'Av.

On Tisha b'Av we mourn brokenness on a spiritual level: tradition says this is the date when Moses shattered the first set of tablets of covenant, enraged by the people's worship of the golden calf. We mourn brokenness on a historical level: on this date the first Temple was destroyed by Babylon, and the second Temple was destroyed by Rome, and the Crusades began, and the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto, and other tragedies besides. And we mourn brokenness in our own day: including, this year, the profound suffering caused by coronavirus... refracted through human prejudices that have enabled over 145,000 deaths in our nation alone, most of them people of color, and 618,000 deaths around the world.

That's so far, as of this writing. Those numbers will continue to grow.

I wrote to my synagogue community this year that "the fall of the Temples may feel like ancient history -- but with our beloved building closed, we may feel a new resonance with our ancestors who could no longer gather together in prayer. The hatreds that led to our many historical traumas may feel like ancient history -- but prejudice, including antisemitism and racism, still festers. There is so much to mourn. And tradition regards this day of mourning as the springboard into the spiritual uplift of the journey through the Days of Awe. We have to feel what's broken in order to rise up from it..."

This year we'll observe Tisha b'Av at my shul in two ways. On the eve of Tisha b'Av we'll gather -- socially-distanced and masked -- at the labyrinth outside of the closed synagogue building. In silent meditation we'll walk the labyrinth, slowly, allowing ourselves to feel the grief that comes with our building being closed and our community being scattered to our separate homes for safety's sake. Because the pandemic renders singing in person unsafe, we'll hear a recording of Eicha (Lamentations) as we walk in silence. The psalmist asked how he could sing God's song in a strange land, but in this pandemic moment we can't sing together at all. It's another loss in a year of so many losses, and it's one that hits me personally in a painful way.

And late in the day on Tisha b'Av, we'll gather over Zoom for a conversation about racial justice. Tradition says that moshiach -- the messiah, or the transformative energy of hope -- will enter the world on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av. On the year's darkest day, the seeds of hope for change begin to sprout. We'll connect with that energy by coming together on Zoom to discuss a pair of NPR interviews from On Being with Krista Tippett (one with Resmaa Menakem, one with Resmaa Menakem and Robin DiAngelo) that folks can listen to in advance. And we'll talk about the work of teshuvah (repentance / repair) and the spiritual work that dismantling racism calls us to do. 

I'm finding it difficult to face Tisha b'Av this year, in part because every time I read the newspaper feels like Tisha b'Av. There's mourning and grief and loss everywhere I look. Hospitals over-filled. Not enough respirators or PPE. The covid-19 pandemic spreading like wildfire. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and so many more. Increased awareness (among white people like me) of racism and how horrific and insidious it is. The realities that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color and that police disproportionately kill people of color and that our world is set up to disproportionately kill people of color and that in my own unconscious racism I have been content to ignore those things.

What I take from the teaching that moshiach is born late in the day on Tisha b'Av is that in our time of greatest grief we can (we must) find seeds of transformation. We have to find the seeds of something better in this awful year, and we need to water them and uplift them and bring them to fruition. In that second On Being episode I linked above, Krista Tippett cites John Lewis z"l (may his memory be a blessing) and his idea that we need to work with what is, even as we hold in our hearts the dream of the "as-if," the world repaired, the world we want to be working toward. We have to work with what is, to be with what is, to learn about what is, and be working with toward a world repaired. A world redeemed. A world no longer broken as it is now.

It's almost unimaginable. But we have to imagine it. We have to work toward it. And the first step is resisting the impulse to turn away, resisting the impulse toward spiritual bypassing, and letting ourselves feel everything that hurts. It's Av: our time to mourn...and then our time to begin to rebuild.

 

Image: Destruction of the Temple by Francisco Hayez, overlaid with a mass covid-19 gravesite.


Tisha b'Av, and parenting, and responsibility, and change

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"I'll be at synagogue for Tisha b'Av," I tell my son. What's that, he asks. "It's when we remember that we used to have a Temple in Jerusalem, but it was destroyed. So we built it again, and it was destroyed again. It's a time for thinking about all the things that hurt -- in our history and in the world now." That doesn't sound like a holiday, says my son. That sounds sad.

And then he asks, why can't we just have holidays for the happy things? "Lots of our holidays are joyful," I point out. "Most of our holidays are joyful! This is the one where we let ourselves feel the things that hurt." His response makes me clutch at my heart: he says, simply, but I don't want to feel sad. "You're a kid, you don't have to," I assure him.

It's age-appropriate that he doesn't want to feel sad. (Especially now, a scant few months after his first grandparent's death. We're both still navigating that.) It's age-appropriate for him not to want to engage with the world's brokenness, how bad things happen to good people, the fall of the Temples, any of it. Right now he needs a sense of safety, not a broken heart.

It's easy to knock "pediatric" theology -- childlike theology that doesn't (yet) engage with theodicy and suffering. If we never grow beyond that, our spiritual selves and our relationship with tradition will be stunted.  We might choose to throw away relationship with God and tradition altogether because the simple version we got as kids doesn't speak to life's challenges.

And yet... for a kid, simple and sweet theology is appropriate. I'm grateful that my kid has the luxury of not living with tough questions of theodicy and suffering on a daily basis. I keep thinking about the children whose testimonies make up this prayer. I wish every child had the luxuries my child enjoys. I wish the suffering in Lamentations didn't still look so familiar.

Of course, there are adults who never outgrow reluctance to feel sadness or difficult emotions. I empathize: celebrations are plenty more fun than funerals. But when we want religion to be a source of happiness and light, but don't want to feel loss or sadness or culpability, our spiritual lives get out of whack. That's spiritual bypassing. Tisha b'Av is the opposite of that.

Tisha b'Av calls us into uncomfortable relationship with loss and sadness and culpability. Loss is hard-baked into the human experience: we can embrace it or we can ignore it, but we can't avoid it. But the sense of culpability -- taking responsibility for our role in the brokenness; facing our complicity in the patterns that lead to brokenness -- that one's up to us.

And to me that's the most fascinating thing about Tisha b'Av: how the tradition makes the spiritual move of saying: yeah, it's our fault. Tradition says this is the anniversary of the date when the scouts brought back a false report, a fearful report, dooming their entire generation to wander in the wilderness. Because we didn't trust, our homeless wandering continued.

Tradition says the Temples, destroyed on this date, fell because of our transgressions -- the first one because of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed, and the second one because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred, which teaches us that senseless hatred is equivalent to idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed. (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b.) That's a hell of a teaching.

As R' Alan Lew notes, in his Tisha b'Av chapter in This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared, any historian can tell you that we couldn't have stopped the juggernaut of the Roman Empire, or for that matter Babylon before it. But the tradition says: that historical truth is irrelevant. What matters here is the spiritual truth that calls us to take responsibility.

In a way it's a victim fantasy. We want to believe that what happened to us must have been our fault, because if it were, then we can act differently next time and protect ourselves from the trauma recurring. But in another way it gives us agency. It reminds us that we can always choose to behave differently, to make teshuvah, to be better people than we were before.

And even if teshuvah doesn't protect us from sorrow and loss, the inner transformation might be its own reward. Because on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av, tradition says, the messiah will be born. We find hope even in our darkest places -- especially in our darkest places. As an adult I find profound comfort in that teaching. It's like the hope at the bottom of Pandora's Box.

The thing is, in order to get to that hope -- in order to get to the uplift of Tisha b'Av afternoon -- we have to be willing to go into the loss and grief and sense of communal responsibility that comes before. Where are our Jewish communities falling into senseless hatred, failing to be welcoming and inclusive?  Where are our national / secular communities doing the same?

Tisha b'Av is the hinge that turns us toward the Days of Awe. It's 7 weeks until Rosh Hashanah. We have 7 weeks to take a good look at our selves and souls, our (in)actions and choices. That inner work won't protect us from trauma and loss, personally or nationally. But it might change who we are and how we respond. And isn't that what spiritual life is for?


A new prayer for Tisha b'Av

I've curated a new prayer for Tisha b'Av that interweaves quotes from Lamentations with quotes from migrants and refugees on the United States' southern border today. In reading the prayer aloud, we put the words of refugees -- parents separated from their children; children separated from their parents; human beings suffering in atrocious conditions -- into our own mouths. May hearing ourselves speak these words galvanize us to action.

Here's a taste:

They told me, ‘you don’t have any rights here,
and you don’t have any rights to stay with your son.’

I died at that moment. They ripped my heart out of me.
For me, it would have been better if I had dropped dead.

For me, the world ended at that point.
How can a mother not have the right to be with her son?...

The prayer is online (and also available as a downloadable PDF) at Bayit's Builders Blog, and you can find it here: Lamentations (Then and Now).


Balancing joy with sorrow: a d'var Torah for Shabbat Shachor

BlackIt's Shabbat Shachor, the "Black Shabbat" that falls right before Tisha b'Av. Today our experience of the sweetness of Shabbat is tempered by awareness of what's broken, from our own ancient stories of destruction and becoming refugees to what we see and hear on the news even now.

Monday night will bring Tisha b'Av, when we'll go deep into this brokenness -- a paradoxical beginning to the uplifting journey toward the Days of Awe. In Hasidic language, that's a descent for the sake of ascent.

But how can we now celebrate Shabbat with awareness of these sorrows?

You might ask the same question of anyone whose loved one has received a fearful diagnosis, or of any mourner, or of anyone who knows the grief of ending a marriage or losing a beloved home or enduring any kind of loss.

In Jewish tradition, we suspend formal mourning on Shabbat and festivals. But someone who is grieving is likely to still feel their grief even on days that are supposed to be joyful -- maybe especially then, because the disjunction between how they are "supposed" to feel and how their hearts naturally flow can be so profound.

Shabbat Shachor offers us an opportunity to sit with that tension between joy and grief. For many of us, that's deeply uncomfortable. It's easier to paper over the sorrow and just be happy, or to keep joy at arm's-length and just sit with sorrow. Today our tradition asks us to resist both of those easy outs, and to sit with the dissonance of a psycho-spiritual chord that's both major and minor.

If you're feeling grief, today invites you to temper your sadness with Shabbat joy. If you're feeling Shabbat joy, today invites you to temper your happiness with an awareness of life's sorrows. This can feel like a grinding of our emotional gears. The heart wants to lurch to one extreme or the other -- sorrow or joy -- not to stretch wide enough to feel them both at the same time. Resist that temptation.

On Monday night we'll be wholly in a minor key. Tisha b'Av is a day of mourning for our communal losses: the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon, which led to our becoming refugees; the destruction of the second Temple by Rome; and a long list of other losses and griefs throughout our history. That day isn't quite here, but we can feel it just around the corner. We can see it coming.

I've learned as a pastoral caregiver that every loss evokes and activates every other loss. Sitting with our historical and communal losses can heighten our sadness around personal losses: the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or a home, the loss of a relationship, the loss of health, the loss of hope. Maybe you're feeling that way today. If not, you've likely felt that way before... and will feel that way again.

And yet amidst all of that loss, both present and anticipated, today we're still called to open our hearts to the abundance and flow of Shabbat. On Shabbes we're still invited to taste perfection. Even if our ability to rejoice is subdued by circumstance or memory, we still offer thanks today for life's many blessings. We still open ourselves to the experience of feeling accompanied and cradled by divine Presence.

It's not a matter of either / or -- either we savor the sweetness of Shabbes, or we marinate in the bitterness of grief. It's a more nuanced and complicated both / and. On Shabbat Shachor we affirm that our hearts are flexible enough to hold both. And what we affirm today as a community carves pathways in our hearts that will help us affirm this truth in our own ways, on our own time, throughout our lives.

Today is our communal Shabbat Shachor, the day when we sit with this balance between grief and joy as a community. But in every life there are individual Shabbatot that take place in this middle ground, partaking in sweetness and in loss. Today reminds us that even when we grieve, Shabbat can still bring  comfort -- and that even at our times of greatest joy, some of us will still struggle with sorrow.

Today invites us to cultivate compassion for ourselves and for each other, knowing that everyone lives in the balance, the tension, the middle ground between sorrow and joy. This is spiritual life. This is human life. May we recognize that even at times of rejoicing, we and our loved ones may be carrying grief...and may we help each other access gratitude and joy even during life's times of darkness.

 

Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.


On healthy humility as Tisha b'Av approaches

28721407382_25ec12b993_zAs Tisha b'Av approaches, I've been thinking about ענוה / anavah, humility. About this quality, my friend and colleague Rabbi Barry Block writes:

The Mussar Institute’s recommended daily affirmation for ענוה (anavah – humility) is, “No more than my place, no less than my space.” The second half of the phrase suggests that one who is “too humble” isn’t humble at all. Now that’s a חידוש (chiddush, a new insight), particularly important for rabbis.

(That's from his essay Mussar for rabbis: humility.)

Humility and Tisha b'Av are often linked because of a story about how excess humility led to the destruction of the second Temple. (Rabbi Barry cites it in his essay.) In a nutshell, it goes like this: in 70 CE, the Romans -- in partnership with a Jewish collaborator -- sent to the priests an animal they had intentionally blemished, making it ritually unfit for sacrifice.

This put the priests in an impossible bind: either they could reject the Romans' sacrifice (thereby incurring Roman wrath), or they could sacrifice the blemished animal (thereby going against God), or they could kill the collaborator who had brought them the animal (thereby unjustly taking a life, and giving the impression that the punishment for presenting an unfit animal for sacrifice was the death penalty.)

They asked Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulus to decide which of these bad choices was least bad, and he declined to rule. He was paralyzed, and therefore he chose inaction. (He may not have seen it as a choice, but it was -- opting for inaction is itself an action.) His people needed him to occupy the space of leadership and responsibility, to make the call about how to proceed, and he didn't, or he couldn't. The choice before him was a terrible one, but in declining to choose, he made the situation far worse. His reluctance to occupy the space of leadership led to the destruction of the Temple, our place of connection with God. 

Lately I've been wearing a wristband emblazoned with words from Rabbi Simcha Bunim. The story goes that he carried two slips of paper in his pockets at all times, and on those papers were the words בשבילי נברא העולם (for my sake was the world created) and ואנכי עפר ואפר (I am but dust and ashes). Each of these is a necessary reminder, and each serves as a corrective to the other. When I'm feeling small or low or insignificant, I need to be reminded that all of creation came into being precisely in order that I might exist here and now. And when I'm feeling haughty or prideful, I need to be reminded that I am temporary and will die.

When I glance down, I never know which of the two phrases I'm going to see. But of the two phrases, I think the one I most often need to see is "For my sake was the world created." Many women struggle with the unconscious internalized sense that we are "supposed" to be quiet, or deferential, or to pursue peace with others even when the peacemaking comes at the expense of our own voice, our own truth, our own strength. (Men struggle with this too, of course, but this tends to systemically afflict women. See 9 non-threatening leadership strategies for women -- behind the humor, the ugly truths are all too real.)

Holding oneself back in order to please others (or in order to not risk offending others, which is a variation on the same theme) isn't humility. It's taking up (in R' Alan Morinis' words) "less than my space," and that's not a character strength, it's a character flaw. That's the sin of R' Zecharia ben Avkulus, which our sages teach led to the destruction of the place our people held most dear. Keeping silent in the face of injustice or untruth isn't a virtue, and it's often driven by the kind of fear I spoke about from the bimah on Shabbat. We diminish ourselves when we let fear rule us, and self-diminishing isn't humility and isn't healthy.

As Tisha b'Av approaches, what would it look like to relinquish the false humility of excess silence? To practice making difficult choices, and speaking difficult truths, and taking responsibility for one's power and one's ability to create change, even when so doing feels risky because of how others might respond? To take up exactly as much space as God intends each of us to inhabit -- knowing that we are dust and ashes, and also that we are reflections of the Infinite, precious and holy, entitled to enough room to stand in, entitled to enough air to breathe, obligated by virtue of our agency to work toward building a better world?


Entering Av

This isn't so much a "d'var Torah" as a "d'var calendar" -- the text I'm exploring this morning is the unfolding of our calendrical year.

On Friday, just before Shabbat, we entered into the lunar month of Av. Av contains the low point on our communal calendar: Tisha b'Av. Tisha b'Av is the day when we remember the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon in 586 BCE, the destruction of the second Temple by Rome in 70 CE, and countless other tragedies that have happened at this season in other years, from the beginning of the first Crusade, to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto and the mass extermination that followed. 

Tisha b'Av is a day for confronting brokenness. The brokenness of the world. The brokenness of our hearts. And yet tradition teaches that on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av, moshiach will be born. The beginnings of our redemption arise from this very darkest of places. It's a little bit like the Greek myth of Pandora who opened the box containing war and destruction and famine and all manner of awful things -- and at the bottom of the box, found hope. A tiny spark of light to counter the darkness. 

It's the height of our beautiful Berkshire summer. Why would we choose, as we move into Av, to delve into grief? Because if we don't let ourselves feel what hurts, we can't move beyond it. If we don't let ourselves acknowledge what's broken, we can't mend. If we don't let ourselves acknowledge what feels damaged, we can't begin to repair it. Brokenness is part of the human condition, and the only way to transcend it is to let ourselves feel it fully. Feeling what hurts is the first step toward healing the hurt we feel.

According to the Mishna, on Tisha b'Av we mourn not only that long list of historical calamities, but also a psychospiritual one: the time when the scouts went into the Promised Land, and became afraid of what they saw, and returned to the children of Israel and said "we can't go there, those people are giants, we must have looked to them like grasshoppers." Av is a time for remembering how we diminish ourselves when we let go of faith for a better future and let our fear rule us instead.

Why would we want to look at the times when we've been afraid? Why would we want to examine our own complicity in the cycles of brokenness that are a part of every human life -- how we keep bringing ourselves, over and over, back to the same issues, the same fears, the same hurts? Because in that examining, we strengthen our power to make different choices. We don't have to repeat the mistake the scouts made. We don't have to repeat our own mistakes. We can make teshuvah -- we can turn.

Rabbi Alan Lew writes,

Tisha b'Av is the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they  manifest themselves in our own lives -- in our alienation and estrangement from God, in our alienation from ourselves and from others.

This new lunar month invites us to recognize that our constructs -- the narratives we've inherited or built to tell us who we are -- are just that: constructed. And like everything else in this world of entropy, they fall apart. When our constructs are shattered, we feel shattered, too. But Tisha b'Av comes to teach us that even when the walls crumble, even when the Temple is destroyed, even when our constructs shatter and we feel adrift, something more lasting than all of these persists in us. 

You can call that something "God." You can call that something "Love." You can call that something "Transformation." 

Av is our month of greatest sorrow -- and in that greatest sorrow, we find an opening to joy. In facing what's falling down, we find a way for our spirits to rise up. In facing our fear and our complicity in succumbing to that fear, we find an opening into a future of promise. In facing our feelings of helplessness, we find strength. In facing the darkness, we find light. Kein yehi ratzon

 

These are the remarks I offered at my shul yesterday morning (cross-posted to my congregational blog.)

You might also find useful this set of resources for Tisha b'Av 5776 on Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.


Almost Tisha b'Av

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.

 

 

You can find more Tisha b'Av posts in my 9Av category.  I commend to you especially this pair of liturgies for the holiday assembled jointly by me and Rabbi David Markus last summer.

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.


Beyond our broken walls

Brickwallscrumbledplaster97566On the Jewish calendar we're in the period called bein ha-meitzarim, "between the narrows" or "in tight straits." This three-week journey began with 17 Tamuz, the day when we remembered the long-ago first breach of Jerusalem's city walls.

It will end with 9 Av, the day when we will remember the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and many other heart-wrenching catastrophes besides. This is a time of year for recognizing what is broken.

There's no shortage of brokenness to notice. Any dive into world news reveals tragedy and trauma. History is filled with broken places, and we carry those with us. And there are broken places in our individual lives. Relationships which have fractured, institutions which are damaged,  sorrows which make our hearts ache. I think we all know the feeling of being trapped in something that is broken.

And yet.

The brokenness isn't an end in itself. The year doesn't end with Tisha b'Av. On the contrary, some see Tisha b'Av as the first step toward Elul and the Days of Awe, the first step toward reorienting and realigning ourselves, toward our annual spiritual rebirth. Every life contains brokenness, but the brokenness doesn't need to define the life. Our broken places can also be openings for something new. As the great sage Leonard Cohen teaches, "There is a crack in everything; it's how the light gets in."

There's something interesting about reflecting on these broken walls (both historical and personal) while I am teaching at Beyond Walls, a retreat which encourages clergy to think about how our writing can take us beyond the walls of our religious communities, beyond the walls of our institutions, out into the world. Can we experience our broken walls as openings to a place of connection? When our walls break, can we respond by building doors? What holiness might we then be able to let in?


Learning to greet collapse with joy: from Tisha b'Av to Sukkot

This concatenation of ritual -- this dance that begins on Tisha b'Av and ends on Sukkot, that begins with the mournful collapse of a house and ends with the joyful collapse of a house, this intentional spasm that awakens us and carries us through death and back to life again -- stands for the journey the soul is always on.

That's Rabbi Alan Lew in the book I begin rereading every year around this time. This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation.

Every year some of the same passages leap out at me. And every year there are some different lines which strike a chord. This is very like my experience of reading Torah every year, too.

This year I'm struck by his reminder that this period of holy time begins with the mournful collapse of a house -- the fallen Temples -- and ends with the joyful collapse of a house -- the sukkot we dismantle at the end of our festival season.

Impermanence is inevitable. The house is going to collapse. Our bodies fail. Our lives come to an end. But do we greet that inevitable collapse with anxiety, or with faith in whatever comes next?

[W]e can regard the ninth of Av as a time when we are reminded that catastrophes will keep recurring in our lives until we get things right, until we learn what we need to learn from them. Tisha b'Av comes exactly seven weeks before Rosh Hashanah, beginning the process that culminates on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tisha b'Av is the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they manifest themselves in our own lives -- in our alienation and estrangement from God, in our alienation from ourselves and from others.

The moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation. For most of us this doesn't mean exile from the Land. But everyone experiences exile, even if only from the childhood innocence to which we can no longer return.

It is so tempting to deny that everyone feels alienation and exile. I want to pretend that I don't feel these things, and that my loved ones don't either. It is so tempting to put a band-aid over everything that hurts and pretend that we can make it okay.

But today is the day to face the fact that a band-aid isn't going to cut it. That loss and fear, sickness and death, alienation and estrangement are part of every life. And in that existential turning, we can begin to change how we relate to all of these.

As Rabbi Lew writes, "Tisha b'Av is the beginning of Teshuvah, the process of turning that we hope to complete on Yom Kippur, the process of returning to ourselves and to God." Today, because we are willing to face grief, we begin to return home.

Tisha b'Av has a hot tip for us: Take the suffering. Take the loss. Turn toward it. Embrace it. Let the walls come down. // And Tisha b'Av has a few questions for us as well. Where are we? What transition point are we standing at? What is causing sharp feeling in us, disturbing us, knocking us a little off balance? Where is our suffering? What is making us feel bad? What is making us feel at all? How long will we keep the walls up? How long will we furiously defend against what we know deep down to be the truth of our lives?

There's no escaping loss. All we can do is let the walls crumble -- the walls of "holding ourselves together," the walls of "bad things happen to them but not to me," the walls behind which we've allowed ourselves to become complacent and comfortable.

Because every moment is a transition point. And in every moment we can choose to accept the truth of our lives -- that life is temporary; that we come from Mystery and we return to Mystery; that we can't protect our loved ones from sorrow and pain.

All we can do is let the walls fall, and grieve their falling, and pour out our hearts before God -- throwing ourselves wholly into the journey toward that other home demolition, the one at Sukkot which we will greet with song and processional and joy.

Because if we can learn to greet that home demolition with joy, then maybe we can learn to greet the collapse which is at the heart of human existence with joy. Things fall apart. Can we use the next two months to learn how to greet that with celebration?


Baseless hatred: still here

This is a time of unusually polarized and polarizing discourse in the Jewish community. The situation in Israel and in Gaza is devastating. And so is the way I've seen people reacting to different beliefs and opinions regarding that devastation: who's at fault, which atrocities are "worse," whose suffering merits our attention. As though compassion were a zero-sum game. As though anyone "deserves" fear, destruction, and loss. As though feeling empathy for the Other weren't at the very heart of Torah.

Just last week I received an email from someone who sought to put me in cherem, excommunication, because this person perceives that my writings about how I hope peace and justice will come to Israel and Palestine are a threat to Jewish unity. One of my dear colleagues has received death threats directed at them and their children. Another colleague was the victim of a spoof press release, filled with hateful rhetoric, which purported to be from him and featured his full name and contact information.

Everyone I know who writes about the Middle East expects to receive hate mail. Often that hate mail is laced with profanity. Often it draws analogies to Nazis, insisting that one who holds the "wrong opinion" about Israel and Palestine is no better than a kapo, one who collaborates with the destruction of our people. This is hate mail written by Jews, to Jews. When we are feeling strong we shrug it off, try to laugh, say ruefully that it's the price one pays for having an opinion. But in truth, receiving this vitriol hurts.

What is the matter with people? This is a real question. What is wrong with us, that anyone imagines that these are appropriate ways to treat others? Harassment is never called-for. Neither is name-calling. And surely it should go without saying that no one should ever make death threats, or spread libelous allegations which could be damaging to someone's livelihood. This is not the way that human beings should treat each other. Ever. No matter how substantively we disagree, about anything.

The sages of the Talmud, I suspect, might agree:

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed.

But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, mitzvot, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed baseless hatred. This teaches us that baseless hatred is considered of equal gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.

(Yoma 9b)

Baseless hatred, say our sages, is of equal gravity with the three worst sins in the Jewish lexicon. Because our community was unable to overcome its internal divisions; because of unkindness and inability to bend -- say our sages -- the second Temple fell. Tonight at sundown we will gather in fasting and prayer and lamentation, remembering that destruction, mourning every grief and brokenness we know. Have we learned anything about kindness and compassion in the last two thousand years?

 


Variations on a liturgy for Tisha b'Av

Tisha b'Av is almost upon us -- that painful day when we remember the fall of the first Temple in 586 BCE, and the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE. The anniversary, tradition teaches, of all kinds of other atrocities, from Crusades to the Expulsion from Spain to the Chmielnicki massacre in Poland in the 17th century to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto during the last century.

It's a dark day. It's also a darkness which contains within it the seeds of light and redemption. Tradition teaches that the messiah will be born on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av -- that from the depths of our grief will come the spark of our greatest hopes for transformation and wholeness.

This year I'm delighted to be able to share two versions of a Tisha b'Av liturgy -- a collaboration between myself and Rabbi David Markus who serves Temple Beth El of City Island. One version will be used at his "shul by the sea;" the other will be used at Congregation Beth Israel here in the Berkshires:

 

Download For the Sake of Ascent TBE [23 pages, 1.7mb, pdf]

Download For the Sake of Ascent CBI [17 pages, 173k, pdf]

 

Both versions feature excerpts from Eicha (Lamentations), the prayers of the evening service, and poems by Yehuda Amichai, Toge Sankichi, and Mark Nazimova, among others. Both feature prayers written by David and by me.

The TBE version draws a closer connection to the 9/11 bombings (after all, from City Island they could see the smoke rising); the CBI version draws a closer connection with recent trauma in the Middle East. The TBE version has a few songs which aren't in the CBI version; the CBI version contains a text study which isn't in the TBE version. The CBI version interweaves Eicha with the evening service, while the TBE version doesn't. They're variations on a theme.

I hope that these siddurim will open up some of this holiday's power and potential for the daveners who use them.

 

 


A poem after Tisha b'Av

WATER FROM THE SOURCE


No blessing is so fervent
as the one over water
fresh from the faucet

adorned with ice cubes
and a quarter of a lemon
at the end of Tisha b'Av.

The crunch of snap peas
cold from the fridge
and sweet as sugar

their texture, crisp
and bright against the tongue
almost brings me to tears.

A day immersed in trauma,
the fallen temple of justice
mothers wailing for their sons --

our fast can't bring
children back to life,
rebuild what is broken.

But it reminds me
people know this emptiness daily
and have nothing to eat.

And that other hunger
for an end to prejudice,
for a world redeemed...

God, rouse my thirst
for righteousness. Make me
care for this damaged world.

 


 

4053470943_1ed648a3af_mThis poem's title comes from the Hebrew song וּשְׁאַבְתֶּם-מַיִם בְּשָׂשׂוֹן / ushavtem mayim b'sasson [here on YouTube], which is a setting of Isaiah 12:3.

(See also Amos 5:24, "Let justice flow like waters, righteousness like a mighty stream.")

It is traditional Jewish practice to fast from both food and water during Tisha b'Av, when we remember the two fallen Temples and mourn the brokenness of creation.

On "the fallen temple of justice" and "mothers wailing for their sons," see: George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves by Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker and Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic.

Image credit: by gnuckx, licensed under Creative Commons.

As we move now into the seven weeks of consolation between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah, may our Tisha b'Av galvanize us to build a more healed and redeemed world.


An internet parable about kindness for Tisha b'Av

TextWhen one person is unkind to another, a whole world can be destroyed.

Once there was a woman who belonged to an intimate and dedicated online community, where for many years people had congregated to share their writing and to support each other through life's troubles and travails.

She had a friend in that community named Jane, and an enemy named Janeway. One day she decided to throw a party in IRC, and she invited members of the community. She meant to invite her friend Jane, but her email program auto-filled the wrong email address and the invitation went to Janeway instead.

So the party got underway, people were hanging out and watching streaming video and having a blast -- and the host noticed Janeway's nick in the list of participants. She was incensed, and instead of yelling at Janeway in a private channel, she accosted her in all-caps where everyone could see. "YOU! You tell untrue stories about me," she wrote. "What are you doing here? GET OUT!"

Janeway typed, "Look, I'm already here -- let me stay, and I'll chip in toward the costs of the party." The woman said, hell no. "Then let me pay for half of the party," Janeway wheedled. No, said the woman. "Then let me pay for the whole thing," Janeway offered.  With no further ado, the woman publicly booted Janeway from the chat server and password-protected the room so she couldn't get back in.

Continue reading "An internet parable about kindness for Tisha b'Av" »


Tisha b'Av begins tonight

2651898311_c55789ec7f_mTonight at sundown we enter into Tisha b'Av, a communal day of mourning. On Tisha b'Av we remember the fall of the First Temple in 586 BCE, and the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE; we remember pogroms and tragedies throughout our history; we remember human suffering writ large; we recognize the brokenness in all creation; we enter into a process of communal teshuvah, repentance/return. For many of us this is a day of fasting and contemplation.

On the afternoon of Tisha b'Av, tradition tells us, Moshiach will be born -- our deepest hopes for redemption, entering our world at our moment of greatest mourning and sorrow. And beginning on the day after Tisha b'Av, we count forty-nine days -- seven weeks -- until Rosh Hashanah, the new year.

In the Tisha b'Av category on this blog are my writings about this day from the last several years, including a few poems (I am partial to As Tisha b'Av Approaches, 2012 and After the fall, 2011); an essay written the first year I fasted on Tisha b'Av (This year's wrestle with Tisha b'Av, 2011); and a series of vignettes from one year's observance at my small shul (Three scenes from Tisha b'Av, 2009.)

I also recommend The journey from estrangement to love to return, a post by Rabbi Sara Leya Schley of Jewish Renewal community Chochmat HaLev. She writes:

Tomorrow night is the 9th of Av, the culmination of period of consciously connecting with our estrangement from self, community and the Divine. Symbolized by the destruction of the Temple, Tisha b’Av brings us to confront what it means to live without a spiritual home, without the place where Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) is always waiting for us. By awakening to our suffering – personal and historical, we create an opening to profound self-awareness. Encountering and embracing the shadow diminishes the power of fear over our psyche.

The wisdom of our Tradition teaches us that mourning our losses, deeply feeling and acknowledging our brokenness in body, mind and soul, creates the opening for renewal. On this darkest of days, Moshiah is born: from the depths of destruction, springs the hope of transformation and redemption. Leonard Cohen famously reminds us "there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in"...

Her whole post is worth reading. In another interpretation (because if there's one thing to know about Judaism, it's that we always have other interpretations, other ways of understanding things) Tisha b'Av is a day of mourning the ways in which not only the Temple was destroyed, but our whole planet is in danger of destruction. Rabbi Arthur Waskow's Eicha for the Earth: the Text a Ceremony of Sorrow, Hope, & Action at The Shalom Center is an excellent read on that front.

Whatever your understanding of this day, and whatever your Tisha b'Av practices are: may your Tisha b'Av be meaningful and profound, a doorway into the transformation of the holy season which is about to begin.

 


 

Photo is mine, from 2008; Stones, wall, shrubs, taken at Robinson's Arch. The fallen stones were hurled down from the Temple Mount when the Romans sacked the Temple in 70 C.E. 


New month of Av and Ramadan

18Chodesh tov: a good new (lunar) month to all. Today's new moon brings us into the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. We're moving further into our journey toward the Days of Awe. One week from tonight/tomorrow we'll observe Tisha b'Av, remembering the fall of both Temples and acknowledging the sorrow, loss, and brokenness we experience in our lives and in the world. For me, Tisha b'Av is when we really begin the journey toward the Days of Awe.

Between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah there are seven weeks. Rosh Hashanah is the 50th day after Tisha b'Av, as Shavuot is the 50th day after Pesach. Some have the practice of doing a kind of reverse Omer count during these seven weeks -- I wrote about that a little bit in my editor's introduction to Shifrah Tobacman's Omer/Teshuvah. Like the period of the Omer, the seven weeks between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah are a period of introspection and deep soul-work.

As we enter the month of Av, our Muslim cousins are entering the month of Ramadan. (That was true last year, too.) This is the last time that our fast day of Tisha b'Av will coincide with their fasting month of Ramadan for a while. In the coming Jewish year of 5774, we'll have a "leap month" -- a whole extra month, which is to say, two months of Adar instead of only one -- which means that the Jewish holidays will move forward on the Gregorian calendar by a month. The Muslim calendar is purely lunar, not lunisolar, so when we gain an extra month, they don't... which means that our fasting won't be in synch again for many years.

Ramadan+e-belgique+1For me, there is something particularly meaningful about engaging in fasting and repentance on Tisha b'Av when it coincides with Ramadan and I know that the spiritual children of Ishmael are fasting and praying along with the spiritual children of Isaac. Our two traditions have many powerful and meaningful teachings in common. (I'm still grateful for the experience of the Emerging Jewish and Muslim Religious Leaders retreat back in 2009, which I wrote about in the essay Allah is the Light: Prayer in Ramadan and Elul.) Especially for those of us who pay attention to the Middle East, it's easy to get caught up in news stories about Jewish-Muslim conflict -- but that's not the only paradigm for our two religious communities. Maybe the experience of fasting alongside one another this Tisha b'Av and Ramadan can help us experience our similarities anew.

Want to know more about this new month on the Jewish calendar? The name Av means "father." One mystical tradition (found in the Sefer Yetzirah) associates this month with the letter tet / ט (which, since Hebrew letters are also numbers, corresponds to the number nine.) This letter is understood to resemble the shape of a womb. I love that the month whose name means "father" is associated with the womb -- what a beautiful encapsulation of the gender-bending (or gender-transcending) realities of God! (The masculine God-name HaRachaman / The Merciful One shares a root with rechem / womb, so there's a way in which our tradition is always engaging in this kind of gender-bending God-talk. I wrote about that a few years ago -- Returning to the divine womb.)

The Sefer Yetzirah also associates different months with different senses. The special sense of last month, Tammuz, was sight; the sense of this month is hearing.

"To hear" in Hebrew means "to understand," to fully integrate into one's consciousness (into one's heart, not only to understand intellectually in one's mind). To hear another is to fully understand his dilemma and emphasize with him...

The sense of hearing is the sense of inner balance. (Imbalance is the source of all fall and destruction). A well balanced ear, a well oriented sense of hearing, possesses the ability to discern and distinguish in everything one hears truth from falseness, as is said (Job 12:11 and 34:3): "the ear discerns words"/ ozen malin tivchan (the initial letters of this phrase spell emet--"truth").

The word Av contains the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet: alef, beit, which are the first letters of the words emunah and bitachon, "faith" and "trust." This month we strive to return to our beginnings, to the alef from which all creation unfolds, and to find faith and trust there.

adapted from various teachings about Av at Inner.org

As we move into the month of Av and Ramadan, may we truly be able to hear one another -- not despite our differences but in and through them. May we empathize with one another. May we find inner balance. May we experience faith and trust. And whether or not we fast from eating on Tisha b'Av or during Ramadan, may we fast from unkindness, from ingratitude, from our worst inclinations. May we take advantage of this month and cultivate our hearts and spirits to serve God and to serve the world.

Chodesh tov / Ramadan mubarak!

Here's a blessing for the new month -- in Hebrew, transliteration, and English -- written by Marcia Falk: Prayer for the New Month.


New Torah poem - inspired by the book of Ezra

CONSTRUCTION

 

It's a hot day in Jerusalem.
Workmen wipe sweat, straining
to lift limestone into place.

A brass band: priests in white linen
playing polished trumpets,
Levites smashing cymbals in praise.

Old men weep who remember
when the rubble was whole
and teenagers scream for joy.

They don't know
that jealousy will stop
their construction in its tracks

that some unpaid scribe
will need to hunt the stacks
for a memorandum of permission

that this house too will fall
and the people will scatter
like cornmeal on a baking stone.

Today they celebrate: God
is on our side!
No one imagines
how much harder their story will get.


This poem arises out of the story of the rebuilding of the Temple, found in the book of Ezra, chapter 3 through chapter 6.

There's something very poignant for me about imagining the rebuilding of the Temple after the years of the Babylonian Exile. Those who remembered the first Temple must have been overwhelmed with joy to see their dreams take shape again.

From the vantage point of where we are now, it's easy to think of the two temples as almost a unit. There was a Temple in Jerusalem, and it was built twice, and then it fell, and Judaism has never been the same. But there was a moment in time when the second one was built, and no one knew it was going to fall just like the first one did.

For all that I cherish the shapes and forms of rabbinic Judaism (and I do!) -- and could not imagine returning to sacrificing animals on a stone altar again -- I can imagine how crushing it must have been when the House of God was toppled.

Thinking about the story of this rebuilding, I find myself holding my breath.

Tisha b'Av, the day when we remember the fall of both temples, falls this weekend and will be observed starting on Saturday night.


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.


A prayer from Reb Zalman for Tisha b'Av

Here's a prayer for Tisha b'Av, written by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a.k.a. Reb Zalman.

This comes from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project blog; in this post he explains the origin of this prayer. It's meant to be recited on Tisha b'Av, the day when we mourn both fallen Temples, which this year begins on Saturday, July 28, at sundown. I find it both beautiful and meaningful; I hope you do too.

Nahem