What to do? What to do? This year in Jerusalem, as Tisha B’Av, our millennia-old national day of mourning and fasting, we are drowning in a plethora of choices of how to participate.
Counter-intuitive, perhaps, certainly counter-tradition, there are any number of musical circles and workshops where we can sing together, play together, drum together, hoping to generate the sense of love and fellowship to counter the sinat chinam, unjustified hate and strife, which let to the destruction of our best interface with the Infinite Almighty and our millennia of isolation and alienation, even though we seem to contemn and ignore what had been our universal practice for these days. Maybe a new approach is necessary and, if so, there are plenty available.
We can choose, traditional chassidic, yeshivishe, zionist, peace-oriented, sufi-influenced services. We can listen to Eicha, Lamentations, chanted, or at least discussed and interpreted, in modern Ivrit, in English, French, Russian, Amharic, Arabic or Yiddish.
Mourning the “City which sits alone, after once hosting literally thousands of people”. Once the greenest, most prosperous center of culture and spirit and technology and wealth, Jerusalem is now reduced to ruins and rubble and all that remains is unending, universal sadness and mourning….
Or is that really so? Today, in the year 5578, Jerusalem is filled with more people, including, specifically, more Jews than any time in history. We are more prosperous, living in greater comfort and luxury than ever. More Jews (as well as non-Jews), men and women, seniors and children, beginners and life-long learners, engaging and studying Torah in Yeshivot and Kollels, Synagogues and living rooms than ever before. And the unimaginable volume wisdom and insights, wise sayings and words of comfort have been digitally entered in various forms where we are able to see infinitely more connections and inter-connections that were ever available to any individual Jew. We have institutions studying the adaptation of older versions of halacha to address modern physical and social realities. We can specialize in the brilliance of the Rambam, the Holy Ari, the structure of the Shulchan Aruch and its many later researchers. There are Yeshivot devoted to Talmud, Halacha, Chassidut, Mussar, Modern Ethics, Business, Labor Relations, Relationships, Sexuality…… Everything imaginable can and is now being examined in light of our vast Torah tradition.
Or, if we want, we can sit alone, chant the ageless words of Yirmiyahu’s Eicha (Jeremiah’s Lamentations) and try to re-experience the horror and tragedy, the utter isolation, bereft of man and God, of that night when the walls were breached, the Holy Temple set ablaze, our brothers and sisters, parents and children, indiscriminately slaughtered.
Yes, we have an almost limitless menu set for us, inviting each of us in our own way to participate not merely in commemorating the tragedy, but participating in the (hopefully) swiftly-approaching complete redemption.
It seems to me that the important thing is that no matter which style of observance we adopt this year, and hopefully this is our final year of effort, we do it in a spirit of Ahavat Chinam, unprovoked love for each other, for our Creator, for fellow Jews and for all mankind, in such a way that next year it will, indeed, appear that this year, with all it’s progress and achievements, was still desolate compared to our ultimate potential.