I write these words on Tisha b’Av eve, a few hours before the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when we mourn the destruction of our ancient Temples, the exile of our people and the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People throughout history, including the greatest tragedy of all – the Holocaust.
Sadly, Tisha b’Av is neglected by many. Falling as it does in the middle of summer, many are oblivious to its occurrence. That is a pity because Tisha b’Av is so important – not so much for its sad commemoration of moments of great historical significance, but for its most relevant message for today. A nation that for 2,000 years can peacefully mourn the loss of its Temple, the exile of its people and the loss of its sovereignty, is one that is destined for greatness. Is it any wonder that we are the only nation to have survived without a land for 1,900 years?
While I do not enjoy fasting for 25 hours – nor is sitting on the floor my cup of tea – Tisha b’Av is, for me, one of the most meaningful days of the year. The haunting tune of Eichah, the beautiful poetry of the kinnot, poetic lamentations, the linking of the past and the present – the words of inspiration have so much to offer.
It would be easy to blame the Romans for the destruction of the Temple. It might even be true, but it is not relevant.
Jewish tradition chooses to look inward; to examine the areas in which we must improve; to focus on how Jewish society crumbled from within, allowing outside forces to conquer us. Jewish tradition values history for the lessons it teaches us today. Thus, our sages teach that we are not really mourning the events of 2,000 years ago; rather, we are mourning the events of today. “Every generation that does not rebuild the Temple, it’s as if they have destroyed it,” our sages declare.
That we still commemorate Tisha b’Av means that we, too, have areas that need improvement, that we must continue to look inward. That Tisha b’Av, no less than Yom Kippur, affords us that opportunity, is a great blessing that we dare not squander.
We can begin examining those same areas the talmudic rabbis felt needed improvement 2,000 years ago – and sadly, still need a lot of work today. The sages of the Babylonian Talmud noted that, despite the fact that the Jews were pious, educated and engaged in acts of kindness, they still displayed sinnat chinam, which is usually translated as “baseless hatred,” though I believe “apathy” is a much better translation.
While those Jews displayed much kindness, it was limited to those in their own inner circles. They did not venture beyond their comfort zones to aid those who most likely were in much greater need of help.
In rabbinic literature, a shomer chinam refers to an unpaid bailee who bears no responsibility for damage to an object under his watch, unless he is negligent. Sinnat chinnam does not require hatred; it just requires that we do not feel responsible for our fellow human beings. That is an act of great negligence.
The sages of the Jerusalem Talmud observed that the Jews of the Second Temple period “had an (excessive) love of money and (therefore) hated this one and that one.” Is today any different?
While it may be Erev Tisha b’Av for me, you are reading this a few days after the happiest day of the year, Tu b’Av, the 15th day of Av. This, too, is a much-neglected holiday that celebrates the time when certain marriage restrictions were removed. A good marriage is the example par excellence of ahavat chinam, of love for no reason, and the taking of great responsibility for others. That we can use a tragedy to come together to celebrate, is the key to the eternity of the Jewish People.
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