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No matter how many times I have journeyed through this period of the year, it always seems to catch me off guard. Tomorrow night is the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, and as some are aware, this day is the Jewish people’s national day of mourning. Harkening back to the year 586 BCE, when the ancient Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the Prophet Jeremiah, sat in sackcloth and ashes, dumbfounded by the pity he felt for himself, for his people and for his God. A fast day, Tisha B’Av has been for the Jewish people, a time to not only remember this destruction but so many that followed throughout our history. However, for many Jews in our time, a day of lament for a history that feels so much like “history” often does not rise to the occasion with significance. Allow me to suggest a new angle that might open a new chapter for each of us individually.
With every Jewish tradition, there is the keva (the fixed) and the kavana (the intention). Sometimes, the keva is binding even when the kavana wanes, other times, the kavana draws us in even when the keva seems so distant. In any case, all Jewish ritual and practice has relied on both for longevity and transformational meaning. So for a moment, imagine yourself as a temple – a structure that stands proudly in the marketplace of life and which over time, has built up ramparts and defenses and look-outs that have grown as a natural response to the perceived and real slings and arrows of life. Over time, this temple, which once gleamed in the sun, has shied away, resisting vulnerability out of fear and neglect.
Tisha B’Av is the time, then, that your temple, you, begin to crumble. And there before you, in a heap, is the ruins of the once “best” version of yourself. In mourning and in reflection, you sit and ponder and wonder, “How did this happen?” and “What now?” These questions thus set us on a journey for several weeks, the rest of the month of “Av.” However, with the conclusion of those few weeks, if we have sat with the heap of our former best self, examining, investigating, staying curious, we will enter into the month of “Elul.” This month, the final month of the Jewish year, draws its inspiration from its name. “Elul,” spelled “Aleph,” “Lamed,” “Vav,” “Lamed,” is an acronym for the verse from Song of Songs, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This month of Elul, our Sages teach, is an invitation to draw nearer to our Source of Life and, believing with all our heart that the love with which we live is a never-ending source, we are invited to get a bit edgy and take risks and make ourselves vulnerable as we seek out the rebuilding of broken or tenuous relationships. With these efforts, we reimagine that we can once again stand tall. We survey the ground, we gather material, we establish plans with Elul calling out to us each and every day, “You are loved by an unending love.” “You will find the grace and redemption you seek when you walk this road.”
And then, as Elul comes to a close, Tishrei is upon us. The first of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, calls to us with kindness and grace and invites us to celebrate the renewal that is now possible, with the start of a new year. Our cheshbon hanefesh, the accounting of our souls, the weight of our actions both positive and negative, laid bare before us, escort us into prayer and meditation. And with the foundations of our new temples beginning to take shape, we enter into Yom Kippur, a day for imagination. “What would it be like if I could see the world through God’s eyes if but only for one day?”
- How much more generous would I feel?
- How much more patience would I practice?
- How much more gratitude would flow through me?
- How much more selflessness would inspire my actions?
This day of Yom Kippur, this day of “At-One-Ment,” yielding a new, creative, inspiring vision for the temple we are seeking to rebuild.
With the blast of the shofar as Yom Kippur concludes, this 10th day of the month of Tishrei, we finally set our sights on rebuilding. The ruins of our “temple,” now a memory that calls out to us, urges us, “Its time to rebuild.” So rebuild we will. Somehow, though, the gilded, fortified structure we had so fervently sought to recreate and fortify again and again, falls short of inspiring our hearts. Instead, in the wake of the journey we have just concluded, something far more simple and basic floods our mind’s eye. A bit of wood and metal, tree branches and paper chains, as the 15th of Tishrei is upon us, our new “temple,” our Sukkah, stands in wide eyed humility for all we have learned. Our Sukkah’s “just-strong-enough-ness,” a constant reminder that our vulnerability, openness and curiosity have become the strongest building materials of all. (But don’t worry, we’re human after all, beautifully imperfect.) We’ll forget and gild and fortify and hide as the year moves forward, its our nature. And then the 9th of Av will come back round and we will again begin this journey – hopefully a bit wiser, a bit more open, a bit less resistant. But never fear – we will always need to rebuild ourselves with material drawn from our ever increasing aptitude for the vulnerability of life.
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