Tisha B'Av 2013

Summertime brings many pleasures, especially in the Berkshires. It is a season of picnics and parties, music and theater, nature walks and family gatherings. It is within this setting, that Tisha b’Av- the fast day of mourning for the repeated persecutions of the Jewish people arrives in our Jewish calendar cycle. Most Jews in America today have no relationship to this day. Its arrival in summer is usually overlooked or dismissed as a relic of a kind of victim consciousness that modern Jews do not want to perpetuate. Yet, there is a wisdom embedded within the wholeness of the Jewish calendar cycle that should not be overlooked for its lessons bear needed messages for contemporary life.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

( Ecc. 3:1-4). With great wisdom, our tradition establishes an annual cycle that honors all apsects of life. In the spring we celebrate joy and redemption through the holidays of Purim and Passover. At the beginning of summer, when the first fruits are harvested, we celebrate the fruit of our tradition- the giving of Torah, the Tree of Life . In the Fall we honor the ingathering of the material and spiritual harvests of the year through the holidays of Rosh Hashanah,Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In the darkness of winter we celebrate the strength of the inner spiritual light that sustains our people.

Taking a closer look at the summer months, when the sun is at its peak of light and heat, we also acknowledge that the fire which warms and gives life can also become a destructive force when love is absent and hatred abounds. The fire of Sinai that brought revelation (And Mount Sinai was altogether in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount trembled greatly- Ex.19:18) can only be received and passed on if it is grounded in love. The Torah states: v’ahavta l’reiakha kamokha- You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:34) Rabbinic tradition emphasizes this golden rule as the core value within Judaism.

In midsummer, on the 17th of Tammuz, when the fiery sun is at its peak, we begin to recall the three weeks that led up to the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem on the 9th  of Av- Tisha b’Av. The 17th of Tammuz which falls on June 25th,  marks the date when the walls of Jerusalem  were breached by the army of Nebuchadnetzar. Three weeks later on Tisha b’Av, the Temple was in flames and burned for 24 hours. Millions of  people were killed and those that survived were exiled from the land.

Traditional Jewish theology views this event as punishment for the sins of the people, particlularly the sin of baseless hatred. Our tradition stresses that this destruction was not due to ritual sin/sins against God. Rather, it was a result of sins between people. Baseless hatred stands as the antithesis to the Golden Rule. Today, we may not view the suffering of others as a punishment from God for immoral behavior, but we can certainly aknowledge that hatred between people leads to the destruction of relationships, families, communities and nations. A midrash from  Lammentations Rabba states the following: Rabbi Ukba said: On the night of the ninth of Av… Abraham entered the Holy of Holies… Abraham said,”Where are my children?” The Holy One said, “…They sinned and I exiled them.” Abraham asked, “Were there no righteous among them?” The Holy One replied, “They have given it up, and even more than that, they have taken pleasure in in one another’s downfall.”

Tisha b’Av arrives each year, in the heat of summer, reminding us that without the fire of love, the flames of hatred can be all-consuming. It allows us to step back for a moment, particularly during this season of pleasure, to grieve for senseless hatred and destruction, to own the shadow, and to acknowedge loss.

There is a season and time to every purpose under heaven… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

The Jewish calendar can be a tool for awakening. It provides a framework for accessing all aspects of  human experience, gaining deeper consciousness and developing compassion. Moving through the cycles of the Jewish year, we enter a spiral dance in which we flow through the seasons of our lives, hopefully becoming more conscious, more whole, and more loving.

This year Tish’a b’Av begins in the evening of Monday, July 15th and ends on the evening of Tuesday, July 16th.