Fasting (or not) In The Time Of Plague

Unique among Jewish Special Days, Tisha B’av lacks any aspect of celebration. Nonetheless, it is a day which many of us, especially those of us living today in Israel, feel a strong compulsion to at least acknowledge. Furthermore, in our day, especially those of us blessed to live in a thriving, metropolitan, international, modern or even futuristic Jerusalem, no longer a city abandoned and bereft, but home to a greater number of people, including a greater number of Jew, and while not all necessarily fall somewhere on an “observance” spectrum, still home to more mitva-observing, Torah-studying, and many at a higher intellectual (at least) level than ever before, how do I mourn something that’s in the very process of rebirthing?

Of course, I must admit, Jerusalem is not yet fully rebuilt. Most conspicuous is the absence of Bayit Shlishi, a standing, functioning (whatever that might mean (will it necessarily include a full (or any) program of Karbanot, ritual animal sacrifice?)) Bet HaMikdash, a Holy Temple. Even without a specifically Jewish Temple, is there any such thing as a Bet Tefilla l’Kol HaAmim, a House of Prayer for All Nations, either here in Jerusalem or anywhere in the world? The job of rebuilding Jerusalem, either as the first concrete step or the final crowning of partering with The Eternal to perfect His/our  world, indeed, remans far from complete. There is that which to mourn, that which yet to pray for and, most importantly, to work for. (Perhaps a high priority in our prayers should be for God’s help in learning just what we need to do, to “work on”. It often seems to me that we desperately need a detailed blueprint already!) Tisha b’Av is a far way from being obsolete and, thus, a candidate for being cancelled.

This opens a larger question, one I’ll continue to explore and write about. If there are those of us who are unable, but still obligated in the Mitzvot of Tisha B’Av, what about those for whom these ancient commandments no longer work? Fasting, refraining from washing, leather shoes, sexual relations, relieving with oils skin dried and painful in the seasonal heat, having refrained from eating meat for nine days, listening to music for twenty-one, shaving or getting one’s hair cut, buying new clothes, what if none of that focuses someone’s mind and heart on their own shortcomings contributing to the world of trouble we inhabit. Grouchy and irritable, and refraining from the distraction of entertainment, are we any closer to loving our fellow Jew, not to mention loving, or even tolerating, our fellow human, especially when they are being themselves, i.e. not being ourselves or who we might want them to be. In the face of such radical and wide-spread disconnect between the rules of this span of time, the failures still operating in this world and any reasonable attempts we might make to fix the mess, how can we find the “Connect”? Will the sad, but arguably most beautiful of the liturgic year melody of Eicha, Lamentations, chanted this night and tomorrow, move us to better our attitudes or behavior, inspire us to be less selfish, more loving, less defensive, more open?

And mirroring these issues, how do we proceed with our entire halachic system during the rest of the year? Is it better to persist because we’ve always persisted? Perhaps that’s the very argument for innovation–it obviously (?) hasn’t worked (yet). Is it a matter of just needing an unknown number of more repetitions in order to achieve “critical mass” or is it a matter of our just not getting the message of the negative feedback? Are there rabbis or other Torah-based authorities who can guide us, who don’t have their own vested interests (power they want to maintain/power they want to wrest away from those who currently have power, dreamers/realists, mystics/engineers)?

The partial rebuilding of Jerusalem in our day, the establishment of a sovereign Jewish nation on at least part of our traditional homeland, these seem to indicate that our world is far from static. That change is occuring or that “Change is Going to Come”. The question is far more profound than how are we going to remain engaged and committed at Jews of the future, but how we fulfill our obligation, to bear witness to God’s active presence in the Universe.

These unanswered questions, while not yet answered, have, Baruch Hashem, finally, at least, been asked.

Without quite knowing how, let us join together to actively bring and increase Ahavat Chinam, Limitless Unselfish Love into our world.

For those who are fasting, Tzom Kal, may it be any easy fast. For all of us, fasting or not, may it be a Strong Nine.

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1 Response to Fasting (or not) In The Time Of Plague

  1. Beautiful as ever Reb Harry! Missing you much and so happy you are living Yaakov Avinu’s dream there in The Holy City!

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