There’s a concept in civil law called Relief. The idea is that when someone suffers damages they should be compensated, as best as can, at least partly, for their losses. Ideally, the one who caused or profited by the damages should be the one makes it good. However, that’s not always possible and often, as we move in time away from the original injury, it’s harder and harder to determine guilt. Also, as time goes on, one who caused the damages might no longer be in a position to recompense the original victim or to return the situation to what it was earlier. In actual law suits, one might need decide who, in the present, can offer the best solution even if he had nothing to do with the original damage. One often finds a situation where the original villain, even when he willingly admits his guilt and even his desire to “make things right” is in no position to and must then walk away free. In other words, it’s very rare that one can actually put the toothpaste back into the tube and completely undo the damage that has been done.
Our early sages, responding the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, leading to our 2,000-year-and-continuing (hopefully coming to an end as we live in the era of Kibbutz Galyot, the (in)gathering of the Exiles), associated these tragedies with several other national disasters that occurred generally during these months and instituted a number of rituals not so much to “commemorate”, these Divine Punishments, but to actively get each of us started on our personal and communal Tshuva, Roads to Return.
Spread throughout the world, for the most part as, largely, powerless minorities, our sages innovated communal fasting and quasi-mourning, activities unlikely to call too much attention to ourselves. We needed, it was assumed, to keep our heads down. Based on the idea that The Creator would have punished us all only if He were mightily provoked by our behavior, combined with our holy awareness that we eat and are otherwise rewarded by The Creator only when we’re not making things worse, communal fasting was, at those time and in those situations, seemed an appropriate and, perhaps an effective tikkun (a repair of in the spiritual realm, where the root of most problems can be found and addressed). Also, we could quietly, wherever our communities were found, try to express our remorse and hopes to change without antagonizing our often hostile neighbors. Needing to keep our heads down, what better format than early morning and late night prayers and study?
Nonetheless, I can’t help notice that the reasons for our long galut, exile, never included overeating or even ignoring the laws of kashrut. Fasting and refraining from joy may well help us focus our attention on those things we did do wrong, but beyond that it’s hard for me to see what one thing has to do with the other. (Of course, I accept the rabbinic teaching that when Chazal offers us a reason for deep reality, they pass over in silence ten other (presumably more profound and subtle) equally or more valid reasons.)
Nonetheless, it seems that the avenue of relief afforded us has little to with returning us to “God’s Favor”, restoring our position in Eretz Yisrael and performing deeds and actions, where acting as Or L’Goyim, a Light to the Nations, we help lead not just the Jewish People, but all Creation. In other words, “what does “A” have to do with “B”? More important, is there an “A'” which might be more directly, or at least obviously lined, to “B”?
No longer needing Halacha to be so “defensive”, to protect us from our pain of always being The Other and our subsequent desires to remove all boundaries, perhaps at this point in our history we no longer need to worry so much about keeping our heads down, our profile low. At least those of us living in Eretz Yisrael can direct our desires to conform to conform to the dominant culture of Eretz Yisrael!
For example, I’d like to propose that, organized and presented by the Haredi communities, a series of sing-along concerts throughout the country. With the various “ultra-orthodox” opening their doors and inviting their less observant brothers and sisters into their world to share a joyous occasion, both reminds us of the fault (forgetting that we are actually brothers and sisters) which led to the Exile itself and directly undo the damage we wrought with our narrow intolerance towards large percentages of our very own people, that very Sinat Chinam that underlies all these tragedies we’ve endured and are enduring.
Not to let the “progressive” wing of our people off scot-free, there has long been an equal blast of sinat chinam towards the charedim and others condemned for being outmoded, It might be nice to see their rabbis and organizations reaching out to orthodox and charedi rabbis and communities to share some of their insights, inspiring rituals. It would benefit many the progressive Jew to discover and experience the architectural magnificence developed in centuries of ongoing talmudic study, of the ultimate development of inferential reasoning, all aimed not at some abstract concept of “truth”, but at justice and compassion, even when these goals require repudiating the philosophical in favor of the humanistic. It would amaze many in both camps to see the tremendous amount of shared values, principles and, at least in their origins, ritual. We are, after all one family, albeit outspread and complex.
Perhaps we can reach a point where it’s less important where the teaching or prayer came from, but how effective it is now in bringing us to a closer relationship, a deeper understanding, a more transformational experience of God. Where if fasting has any value at all, it’s to remind ourselves and our Creator that we acknowledge past error and dedicate ourselves, communally as well as individually, to be more welcoming of the other, the insights and experiences we’ll never personally have, but which are necessary to create a full view of what sort of society we ca create and sustain. If that’s not a good working definition of Ahavat Chinam, perhaps it’s the very next step once we’ve, hopefully, achieved it.