When your kid says he wants to find a place to hear the soft, poetic chanting of a somber but beautiful religious document, is there any answer other than “Sure!”?
This weekend is a holiday I never observe, Tisha b’Av. The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it’s a day which marks all the terrible things that have happened to the Jewish people over the millennia. The destruction of the two holy temples in Jerusalem, Hitler’s Final Solution. All on the same day.
For observant Jews, the three weeks preceding Tisha b’Av are a somber time. They don’t swim, they don’t travel, they don’t have weddings or concerts, and for the last nine days, they don’t eat meat, do laundry, some don’t even take hot showers.
It all culminates in a 25-hour fast day of mourning the horrible things that have befallen my people, laced with the hope that better times are surely ahead.
Since I stopped being Orthodox, I’ve pretty much abandoned Tisha b’Av. I know it’s there, I respect those who observe it, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t believe Judaism is about deprivation and sadness.
Some Jews have modified this observance because we now have a Jewish state in the land of Israel. I’m in that camp. Yes, these things happened, but look what’s dawning now!
And now, my son Asher wants to commemorate Tisha b’Av.
Except we’re heading to the beach for our annual Delaware vacation and we’ll arrive beside the crashing ocean waves and invigorating salt air about six hours before Chabad in Ocean City, Maryland sits on the floor and plaintively wails eicha, the text traditionally read to launch Tisha b’Av.
Nonetheless. The kind of mom I’ve always sought to be is the mom who wants to help my children become who they are meant to be. So Asher and I will be driving to Chabad Saturday night.
At first, I was lovingly annoyed. Do I really want to sit on the floor and play the somber game? But it’s my beautiful boy! Of course I will.
And then I spent time this week looking at Tisha b’Av in a different light, thanks to my friend and rabbi, Aaron Bergman. He shared with me a few essays about Tisha b’Av by Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel.
The Sages say that the Temple was destroyed because of the Jewish people losing our connection with God. That we forgot what was important, stopped acting in the best interests of the world.
Simply put, the Jewish people at one point were accused of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. And Rav Kook states that the only way to rebuild the Temple – which may well be a metaphor for rebuilding a world focused on holiness and community rather than an actual building in a particular place – is to adopt an attitude of baseless love.
“We shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love.” (Orot HaKodesh, vol. III, p. 324)
Hatred, says Rav Kook, is not about the other person. The act of hating is within each of us.
Love and hatred, he says, share a common source: love of life and the world. They are opposites of the same scale.
The key, he says, is to “uncover the depth of good in what we perceive as negative,” and then we can see good coming from even the things we oppose.
Love begins in the head, not the heart, Rav Kook taught. You need the wisdom to see deeply and understand nuance. That beneath a grumpy exterior, or a bully, is a scared and quaking fragile soul.
Love doesn’t mean letting people walk on you, tolerating destructive or mean behavior, or condoning bad manners. It means getting out of your own way, not judging, but not contributing either.
“If we take note of others’ positive traits, we will come to love them with an inner affection,” Rav Kook writes. “Every person has a good side.”
It’s not easy to do. This week I contacted a gal about an article I am trying to write. She asked me to send her written questions before the phone interview, but I didn’t have time to do so. She didn’t like that response. She called my editor to tattle on me.
As much as it annoyed me, I decided to let it go. That day was too busy to send her any questions, as I’d said. A day later, I had some time, so I shot her an innocuous email saying, “Here are questions.” I gave her a deadline.
Today, she emailed me with a passive-aggressive silliness, told me change is never easy but it’s always good, told me to say hello to my editor for her, and used words like “gall” and “audacity” in the guise of “a friendly piece of advice.”
My editor and I agreed to laugh it off. My editor said, “The B word comes to mind.”
My first response was to be burned with annoyance. How dare she! I immediately wanted to give her a piece of my mind.
I didn’t. While I can honestly say I am not showering the gal with love, and I am finding it hard to find those positive traits in this person I do not know who went to such lengths to cow me into a corner, I can see a glimpse of something akin to fragility and insecurity in this illusion of who she is.
It’s a hard task, what Rav Kook asks us to do. But worth it.
The more you bless those you dislike, and even those you really dislike, the higher ground on which you stand.
My rabbi said when he prays or meditates, he offers blessings to all those that he loves. And then he offers blessings to all those that he doesn’t. Because if somewhere inside the latter group of people there is a hungry soul yearning to break free on the side of good, it will only do so by the weight of a lot of blessings sent their way.
Those are my words, not his, but you get the picture.
The point of this holiday coming up is that we bring upon ourselves our own destruction. And we build for ourselves our own redemption.
It is in no one’s hands but our own.