It struck me as odd when I realized that today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the Month of Av in the Hebrew Calendar, and it is also the 9th of the Month of August in the Julian Calendar, strange coincidence, or maybe not. This got me to thinking how it was the ninth day of a month beginning with the letter ‘A’ for the Jews in Israel and the majority of the Jews in the Diaspora, and how that must stand for something. I got to thinking about exactly what the Tisha B’Av fast and prayers are all about. Any day where Jews are instructed to fast from not only eating food, but to also abstain from Torah study except for select Parashah from Lamentations is most definitely a very unusual and special day, and to have it be so similar in the two largest societies of Jews makes this year’s Tisha B’Av special in some way. So, I reached back into the furthest and deepest recesses of thought trying to find the morsel that would satisfy my need for a reason, an explanation.
I thought for a while and the first point that came to me was that Tisha B’Av is so very different than other fast days and holy days in the Jewish faith. Most fast days in Judaism are meant for individual introspection and the repair of the self, yet it seems to me Tisha B’Av has a different theme for us to do our introspection and seek solutions. On Tisha B’Av we mourn the destruction of the two great Temples in Jerusalem, the villainous temerity that caused fear to cloud the judgment tainting the reporting on the Promised Land by ten of the twelve spies and the lack of faith that instilled causing fear in the Israelites causing forty more years of wandering in the desert until a new generation was born and readied, and a myriad of other tragic calamities throughout the ages right up to and including this year where in the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av we witnessed a pair of senseless and horrid murders. The suffocation and mutilation of nine year old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn and in Israel the stabbing murder of a Torah great who was also steeped in Kabbalh, Rabbi Elazar Rabbis Abuhatzeira, both murdered by a fellow Jew who were reportedly both having what was termed ‘mental difficulties’. It was these last two tragedies that brought forth my thoughts on what makes this Tisha B’Av special.
Tisha B’Av is a day of fasting and with the reading of Lamentations with the intent of the Jewish people not focusing on the self as much as focusing on the whole of Jewish society and the things that are affecting the body of the community affecting it as if it was an infection, a disease. It is a time for introspection as a society more so than as an individual, though in all Jewish introspection one major goal is the improvement of the self. For Tisha B’Av we are tasked to improve ourselves in such a way as to improve our society starting with our Jewish society. As Jews we are instructed to be a light unto the nations, an example of how to live and be righteous and accepting of each other, if not loving of each other. In order to do this we must first set our own community in order. The two murders that were days apart and of a nature that they riveted the attention of both societies, Leiby Kletzky for the Diaspora in the United States and Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira in the Land of Israel, though both tragic events were also felt by both societies. What I saw as a message told by both instances was that the House of the Jews is not in order and is suffering from a lack of mutual love, respect, understanding, and fulfillment of our obligation to be as a light unto the nations. If we are having such animosity and have turned to committing violence upon fellow Jews, how can we then in turn show the rest of the world how to live with acceptance and harmony between peoples when we are unable to do so among ourselves?
This is what must be the intent of having the ninth of Av fall on the ninth of August, to emphasize that despite the differences between those Jews living in Eretz Yisroel and those still remaining in the Diaspora, we are all Jews and must learn to sympathize and feel each other’s pains and frustrations and find channels through which to connect with one another. This Tisha B’Av Jews everywhere need to become one family again and hold tightly to those things which we share while repairing those areas where we have yet to reach a commonality. The grief visited upon both societies of the Jewish People were messages telling us that despite our geographic distance, we need to feel and become one even if at first only to combat all adversities that afflict either of our groups and especially those that afflict both of our groups. The time where doing such has become imperative is now, not tomorrow, not next week, not when it is easier or necessitated by even more horrendous afflictions.
When we look around the Jewish family we see a very dysfunctional family with many problems of which the feeling and actions that come from a spirit of oneness is completely lacking. This was made evident with the rejection by those Tel Aviv Jews initially refusing to allow the Jews from Judea and Samaria from joining their protests despite the similarity of situations for both groups. The Jews from around Tel Aviv cannot find affordable housing because of slow processes to obtain permits among other reasons while the Jews from Judea and Samaria suffer lack of housing due to the ten month building freeze and the unofficial extension of that building freeze by certain powers within the government. Two groups of Jews sharing a similar problem yet they take up sides against one another refusing to feel empathy or even sympathy for each other. Then there is the rift between secular Jews and religious Jews, wealthy Jews and those less well-off Jews, you name a type of division in a culture and it as well as some uniquely Jewish element serve as insurmountable obstacles placing impenetrable barriers between the differing members of the universal family of Jews. These are the problems that urgently need to be recognized and addressed this Tisha B’Av.
So, my prayer for this Tisha B’Av is that Jews everywhere can come together as we were in June of 1967 when we all felt threatened and challenged and stepped up as a people to face the overbearing animosity threatening all of us. Today we have very similar looming threats over our heads yet rather than come together to protect, defend and love one another we are casting stones and abuse of all natures; physical as seen at the housing protests, ideological as we see regularly in the Knesset, acceptance as witnessed by some to the Ethiopian Jews who have come home to our family only to be scorned by their peers, geographically by the fact that half of the family has yet to return home to our promised lands, religiously as can be seen by the arguments between factions on how to be a good Jew as well as others that we all will find and correct should this Tisha B’Av produce a renewal of our feelings and actions that strengthen Jewish unity as a society and as a family.
No longer can we afford to be brother against brother and not much longer will the L-rd our G-d permit such a splitting of his house or the self-inflicted wounds that are all too often intentional. This Tisha B’Av the message is to get our house in order and renew the bonds between all Jews, not solely those who meet your particular standards as we are a family with a common and shared history that should teach us the danger of continuing on our current path of internal strife and conflict. The message is quite clear for those willing to seek it and the solution will come through our reawakening to our traditions and history. We must return to the love of our brothers and sisters before it becomes too late and another destruction is added to the list of calamities to contemplate over on Tisha B’Av.
Beyond the Cusp