Image: A green twig sprouts on a dead-looking stump. (Pixabay)
We just observed Tisha B’Av, the day when we remember the destruction of the Temples, and the Expulsion from Spain, and many other disasters in Jewish history.
The great Jewish historian Salo Baron (1895-1989) was prone to point out that much of Jewish history is written as “lachrymose Jewish history.” He was reacting to the tendency of historians before him to frame Jewish history as a series of disasters. He argued for an end to self-pity and a new, more sophisticated analysis of the forces inside and outside the Jewish community that shaped its development.
I always think of Baron on Tisha B’Av, because more than any other day, we seem to have a tendency to sing choruses of “Oh Poor Us:”
- The mean Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple. (586 BCE)
- The mean Romans destroyed the Second Temple. (70 CE)
- The mean Romans plowed Jerusalem under after the Bar Kokhba Revolt. (135 CE)
The ancient rabbis insisted on looking at our role in the destruction of the Temple, just as Baron would, centuries later, look for both the internal and external elements at work in later disasters.
For the rabbis, bad things happened because the Jewish people refused to listen to the prophets. We insisted on the fantasy that sacrifices and fasting were the only things important in Torah. Torah is not just about ritual. It is equally about the way we treat other people and ourselves. The rabbis believed that we would be secure only when we took responsibility for our behavior, both individually and as a people.
Anti-Semitism is real and it is horrible. But when our response to our history is to sit in a puddle of pity and wail that no other people has been so persecuted, we are not seeing clearly. The First Temple, they said, had been destroyed because of injustice and immorality. The Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, useless hatred.Last week I posted the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, one of the classical stories about the destruction of the Second Temple, in Why Was the Temple Destroyed? It is not the only such story highlighting the way Jews treated one another in that time.
History might have turned out differently had we behaved differently. The season of the High Holy Days will be with us soon: Elul begins at sundown on August 10, and Rosh HaShanah begins at sundown on September 9. We would do well to examine ourselves and our behavior today to look at the cruelty in our present society. And before we cry, “Those mean guys over there are doing it!” we should take care of our own contributions to the trouble.
They said [that] Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students… and they all died in one period [of time] because they did not treat each other with respect. — Yevamot 62b
If we will not take responsibility for ourselves, we cannot survive. But if we renew ourselves, if we choose the path of goodness rather than cruelty, of truth rather than lies, of humility rather than arrogance, of responsibility rather than self-pity, what might we accomplish?
3 thoughts on “Tisha B’Av is Over – Now What?”
This is one of your best pieces. I’d like to quote you in a High Holiday sermon, if you don’t mind.
I would be honored, thank you.
You know, I always saw these days as hope. Hope that eventually we/they’ll figure it out and stop ruining chances to thrive. It seems like Jews tend to have a pessimism ingrained in their thinking…like it’s only a matter of time before everything is destroyed and they have to figure out how to survive.
Somewhat like the poverty mindset, where those who are desperately poor don’t think past the same day. How do we get through today without starving? It’s almost like those who are poor don’t realize that making steps to fix the situation is even possible, so when success happens, they’re more likely to blow the money rather than find a way to earn extra with it. Similar to the Jewish people. I think they’re so used to being maligned, murdered, and shut down that hope stays just as hope, but very little else.
Please don’t think I’m judging the people or the faith, it’s just an observation based on reactions I’ve noticed over the years I’ve studied. I am so happy with the creation of the Nation of Israel, and their hard work in creating something beautiful.
By the way, I’m posting this comment through my regular profile. If you’d like to follow the Jewish conversion blog, you can find it at https://myjewishconversionexperience.wordpress.com/. I had seen that you followed the main blog and I didn’t want you confused that there aren’t any posts on Judaism on there.