Rabbi David Baum's Blog

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Shabbat Shalom,

On Wednesday night, we tried something a little different at Shaarei Kodesh. We provide educational opportunities for all ages at our Hampton location on a weekly basis, but this week, we decided to take the learning outside of our 'gates'. I started a two-part class called Drash and Dine in partnership with a group of Jewish Millennials called South Florida J-Connect. Both classes center around relationships - the first class on friendship, and the second class, next Wednesday, will focus on sexual relationships. I'm doing this for a reason: These two weeks are a journey through Jewish time that challenges us to feel extremes. The holidays of Tisha B'av, the time when we observe a day of mourning as a result of the destruction of the Second Temple and other tragedies, and Tu B'av (the 15th of Av), the Jewish version of Valentine's Day, occur within the same week. The two holidays are tied together: one is the saddest day of the year, while the other is the happiest, and both are tied together because of relationship! The rabbis of the Talmud state that the second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred between people and Tu B'Av is about finding and maintaining loving relationships. We are taking a month long journey to holiness together. Here's a link to our next Drash and Dine, this Wednesday.

I wanted to take this opportunity to give you some more information about Tisha B'Av and to try and put the holiday into some context:

What is Tisha B'av, when will it be observed, and what do we do on this holiday?

Tisha B'av (the 9th of the month of Av) and Yom Kippur are the two 25 hour fasts we commemorate. On these days, in addition to fasting, we do not wear leather shoes (which were taken as a sign of luxury), we refrain from sexual intimacy, we refrain from washing, and we do not wear perfumes or use scented oils. Believe it or not, Yom Kippur is considered one of the happiest days of the year. We abstain from these earthly pleasures in order to transcend the physical world, but on Tisha B'Av we abstain from these pleasures because of our extreme sadness. On this day of sadness, we cannot even think of eating and drinking, of being sexually intimate with our partners, of bathing and putting on perfume/cologne. We are sad for a number of reasons. According to our rabbis, on the Ninth of Av the first and second Temples were destroyed, but there were many other tragedies that occurred on this day. On this day, it was decreed that the Israelites, after leaving Egypt, would wander in the desert for 40 years, until a new generation would be ready to enter the Promised Land; Betar, the fortress headquarters of Simon bar Kokhba, fell to the Romans in 135 C.E.; Hadrian, the Roman [emperor] and ruler of Jerusalem, in 136 C.E., rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city; the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from England was signed by King Edward I in 1290; and Ferdinand and Isabella decreed this to be the official date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. It's a day of national loss.

This Shabbat falls on the 9th of Av, but we delay commemorating the holiday until the 10th of Av. Shabbat is a happy time and we are forbidden from engaging in mourning practices.

Why Is Tisha B'Av still observed when we have the modern state of Israel?

When someone asks, "how are you?", is your go-to answer, "good" no matter what? For some reason, even if we are really upset, we are reluctant to share our feelings. It doesn't seem polite to tell others how we truly feel, to look into their eyes and say, "I'm really sad." Our tradition does not pretend that awful things do not happen - there is a time to laugh and smile, but there are also times to weep and mourn. Rather than avoid these feelings by pretending to be happy, we embrace sadness for one day, but we wait until the last possible moment to do so.

    

Some of you might have seen the movie Disney film Inside Out. The film is a glimpse into the mind of a young girl named Riley whose family moves from Minnesota to San Fransisco.  The truth is, Riley and her family are only secondary figures in the story; the real heroes of the film are the emotions inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust, played by different characters. Throughout the movie, Joy tries to keep Sadness at bay lest she takes over and force Riley to cry and feel loss. In the end, Joy realizes that Riley needs to mourn her losses- the life she left behind in Minnesota. Because she is able to express these emotions, because Joy lets Sadness take over, she begins the process of coping with her new reality and she begins to heal.

We are reluctant to embrace sadness, especially during the summer when the sun is shining bright, but embracing sadness, at times, we know we must in order to eventually heal. On this day of holy grieving, our synagogues turn into makeshift shiva homes. We avoid greeting each other or speaking about trivial issues mimicking how one behaves towards an avel, a mourner. The difference between a shiva home and this holiday is that all of us are mourners. There is a great beauty in mourning together as it shows the essence of our people. We are a large family - when one suffers, we all suffer, and when we have suffered enough, we get up from the ashes of despair and become stronger as a people. My hope is that at the end of the fast on Sunday night, we are not weakened, but made stronger and with more hope than we had before.

On this day of sacred mourning, we will gather together at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh for an evening service that is bereft of the normal tunes and songs we sing in order for us to pray with sadness. We will be chanting from the megillah of Eichah (Lamentations), a beautiful work of poetry and liturgy sung to a unique and haunting trope (tune). Following the evening service, I will lead a reading and discussion on various Kinot, poems expressing mourning, pain, and sorrow. We will read these beautiful and haunting poems from different times, medieval and modern, poems from the Diaspora and from modern Israel to feel what our ancestors felt. Together, we will sit in a shiva home that extends across the world, and through all time.

On Sunday morning, we will gather together for a morning minyan. Usually, on a weekday morning, we would wear talit and tefillin, but our rabbis decreed that on Tisha B'av that we do not wear them. I always have a feeling of loss when I pray without these items that I have grown so accustomed to my whole life on a weekday morning. It is yet another way we experience and dwell in loss. In the afternoon, as we move from despair to glimmers of hope, we don our talit and tefillin to pray the mincha service.

Member of Knesset Dov Lipman recently wrote, "We are blessed to be living in one of the greatest periods of Jewish history. Jews from around the world have reached the highest of levels of success in every sector within society. Jews continue to play pivotal leadership roles in shaping and informing Western civilization. There is so much for us to be grateful for. But in my opinion, the greatest achievement of our generation is the return of Jews to our homeland to take part in the Jewish people's greatest project - the building of the State of Israel. This is a unique period in history. Kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles, is taking place before our eyes. These are truly remarkable times."

The Zionist leader Berl Katznelson (1887-1944) famously wrote that if the Jewish people had not known how to mourn for generations on Tisha B'av just as it mourns for a close relative, there would not have arisen Zionist leaders such as Hess and Pinsker, Herzl and Nordau, Sirkin and Borochov, Gordon and Brenner. Our mourning has a greater purpose - it helps us build a brighter future.

On Tisha B'Av and the weeks following, we ride a roller coaster ride of emotions, but isn't that so Jewish?

Shabbat Shalom, and may you have a meaningful fast.

Rabbi David Baum

Mon, November 20 2017 2 Kislev 5778