The three-week period ending with Tisha B’Av has long been associated with mourning the many disasters which have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. Highlighted by, but not begun with the destructions of the two Holy Temples, it often seems a time for looking backwards, for taking stock, for strongly feeling the victim of so much horror. And so it has been and have we been.
But Judaism is trivialized if it merely marks and wallows in the pain of the past, no matter how real and authentic that pain has been. One can claim for Judaism an historical distinction as the most abused tribe, but that’s neither the point nor worth an argument.
What is and always has been central, however, is how can we use these feelings, these experiences, these insights, so strong at this phase of the yearly cycle, to reach new heights, to grow and become more aware, to increase our ultimate union with the Creator, even through the path of pain.
In fact, the very word “How”, “Eicha” is the key to this night and day. How can Jerusalem, the City of Peace, sit so alone, how can Moses, alone, bear the weight of leadership? These are the historical questions.
Perhaps our questions should be more along the lines of how can we trust the Almighty so we can open ourselves to feel the heartbreak? How can we celebrate this shattering of the klippah, the hard shell covering our hearts, protecting/preventing us from the full depth of feeling? And after we make ourselves so vulnerable, after we peel off our layers of comfort, how can we rebuild? How can we grow more loving, more giving, more compassionate for having taken this very profound journey?
Of course there is no specific answer which will work universally for each of us. Part of the opening, the vulnerablity, is to allow ourselves the experience the loneliness of exile and transform it to the solitute of revelation. With our unique neshamot, souls, we are all of us small parts, but fragments which carry the whole, the One, the Echad within.
This, actually, is the secret our sages describe in the longing for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of the temple service. Remember, the karbanot, badly mis-translated as “sacrifices”, are really processes to bring people together with each other, with The Creator, to unify the material with the spiritual worlds, to fulfill the ultimate Unification of transcendent harmony and love.
The Gemara (Brachot, Chapter 1) tells the story of Rabbi Yosi who, fearing marauders on the road, ducked into one of the relatively recent ruins of Jerusalem in order to pray. The mysterious Elijah appeared to him in the doorway and, after he finished his prayers, shooed him out of the ruin, assured him of the safety of praying while one the road and also taught him that in such a situation he should pray the “short” prayer. Rabbi Yosi proclaims that he’s learned three important lessons, not to enter a ruin, to pray on the road and to pray in shortened form. He immediately merits hearing a Godly voice which then leads us into further territory.
There are many levels, historical, halachic and the like where deep meaning can be found from this tale. The Eyn Yaakov (one of the three primary sources (along with the Marhasha and the Maharal of Prague) to begin unlocking the Aggadic (narrative rather than legal) face of Gemara teaches us to substitute other concepts in order to learn the hidden but fundamental lesson of this story.
Digesting the decoding process, we learn than the ruin represents the recent Temple destruction and the road, or as it’s literally presented, the derech, the way, represents the exile. We learn that in prayer, Rabbi Yosi entered the ruin, that is he fixed his full heart and mind on the past. He sought escape from the road, the derech, the path which, at that time had become the great Exile because of his great fear for the future. In that condition he performed the long prayer, in other words he prayed for everything all at once, for instant redemption, for the immediate end of this often terrifying challenge.
He was corrected by the mystical Elijah, the harbinger of the Redmeption to focus on the present, the derech, the path. Not merely to not be afraid, but to embrace it’s challenge. And rather than to pray for it all to be over, to pray the short prayer, the limited prayer which tries to truly asses our current situation and abilities, to bravely and proudly take those small steps which are given to each of us. But the Eyn Yaakov empasises and repeats that this is a special small prayer in that in contains within it all the essence of the long prayer. In other words, each of us working with our unique abilities and challenges, being true to our individual neshamot, our true souls, has the ability to bring about the complete enlightenment and redemption we all long for. By reaching and not fearing, by reaching and by not over-reaching, with humility and good fellowship, our year’s worth of barriers we’ve built over our hearts shattered, perhaps allowing us this time to truly connect. May it happen soon in our days.
9 Av, 5760