I’m writing this on the floor as we commemorate yet another anniversary of the destruction of both Batei Mikdash and countless tragedies suffered by our people. How many years has it been? Are we at ten thousand years yet?
What bothers me most about Tisha B’av is not the fasting, or trying to find “meaning” in the day and its services, or figuring out how to best spend the time when we are not allowed to do much of anything. What bothers me is that we still have to go through this. We’re so tantalizingly close to the ultimate redemption and the fulfillment of all the glorious prophecies, yet we keep making the same blunders to delay it still further. Every Tisha B’av I think that this will be the last one, yet here we are again, doing it all over again, hoping this time will be the last one. Maybe we made some progress since last Tisha B’av – maybe if we measure all the steps forward and all the steps backward we come out a little ahead – but it feels like a waste.
Our Sages teach us that every generation in which the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt is tantamount to having it been destroyed in its days. It’s hard for most of us to emotionally connect to this idea. We never experienced the true, complete manifestation of Judaism with a Beit Hamikdash. We can’t fully appreciate what we are lacking, let alone feel that we had it now and lost it. So we try to connect to more contemporary episodes of destruction, such as the Holocaust, or Gush Katif, or terrorist attacks, which we can more easily relate to.
Even that is difficult for me, because the essence of Tisha B’av is so much more than even the most horrific tragedies we have collectively suffered and continue to suffer. It is the ultimate chillul Hashem, the ultimate desecration of God’s name, that we remain disoriented as a people, slaves even though we are free, unable to get our act together and give that final, united push to spiritual return and redemption when we are so close. The Sages teach us that we have the power to usher in the redemption in every generation. If our generation passes and the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt, we must consider our generation something of a failure. No matter what else we may accomplish, we will have still fallen short of our potential, God forbid.
I have a Tisha B’av wish list, a road map that I present in a positive, non-threatening way to help us get unstuck. Let us all resolve to find at least one thing on this list that we can relate to and take upon ourselves, so that we can be the generation that finally gets it right, or at least right enough.
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I wish… that all Jews who study the Torah and observe the Mitzvos will internalize the fact that we all play for the same team. We cannot talk about Jewish unity as long as those who live the most authentic Jewish lifestyles cannot even unify among themselves. And by unity I don’t mean forming technical political alliances so long as they are convenient, but by seeing your fellow Jew as a beloved family member whose welfare is paramount to you – even if he can be very annoying. His needs and concerns should be very important to you, even if they are different than your own, even if you both can’t possibly get everything you want all the time.
Jews are willing to give up so much to our most savage enemies. I wish we could all give an inch more to our fellow Jew.
I wish… that all Jews who do not study the Torah and observe the Mitzvos will internalize the fact that they too stood at Har Sinai as one with the rest of the nation and accepted the Torah. I understand that thousands of years of persecution and living among the nations made it impossible for us to study and keep the Torah properly. I also understand that religious role models and communities have often disappointed you, and you resent the Torah as a result. You expect more from people who are supposed to be following God’s ways, and you aren’t wrong.
But you can expect more from yourself as well. The Torah is what gives us our identity as the Children of Israel, the right to possess the Land of Israel, and our purpose in this world. It is our only reason and our only right to exist as a nation. So instead of scouring the world looking for meaning and inspiration, return to your true source. Chances are you will be far from perfect in your observance as well, but as long as we are sincerely trying and growing, none of us should be considered a hypocrite.
I wish… that our political leaders across the spectrum will accept upon themselves to not utter a bad word about their colleagues. Your campaigns should be conducted as one would a job interview. You don’t go to a job interview and slander all the other candidates for the position. Such a tactic would be an immediate turn-off and cost you any chance at the position. Who wants to hire someone who is openly prepared to sabotage his fellows just to get ahead? Do you politicians really think this makes you more attractive candidates, even to those who will ultimately grit their teeth and vote for you? Do you really think you are making our nation healthier and stronger by tearing down the next person?
Being a member of the government is an important job, but at the end of the day, it’s a job. We’re the ones hiring. So stop telling us what’s wrong with all the other candidates, and tell us only why we should hire you. What are your qualifications for the position? What do you bring to the table? How will you make things better for all of us, not just the people who look most like you?
I wish… that our media would stop making literally everything into an issue of gender, race, and identity. I understand that you have to keep people interested to make money, and that creating the story and slanting the story instead of just reporting is good for your bottom line. But there are more important bottom lines, and finding artificial ways to divide our people, then blowing them way out of proportion, is something our enemies very much appreciate. It’s the best way to insure we’re doing this all again next Tisha B’av.
I wish… that the Jews across the world would realize that the period of exile is over, and it’s being extended mainly by your unwillingness to leave. The religious among you claim that you are waiting for Moshiach, but you have it backward; Moshiach is waiting for you. You devise every excuse in the book for why you won’t come to Israel, why you can’t come to Israel, but you’ve never taken a concrete step to overcome these impediments – which means they are really just excuses.
What would we say about a prisoner who refuses to leave when he is freed, because he has become used to the prison life, his needs are taken care of, and it’s really not so bad compared to being responsible for his own destiny? That prisoner is you. You’re right, life in Israel isn’t perfect, moving presents numerous challenges and potential sacrifices, et cetera, et cetera. But maybe this one day out of the year you will take stock and realize that Jewish people living in exile is the greatest chillul Hashem, the absolute worst punishment God could decree on the nation short of destroying it completely. You are voluntarily choosing that for yourself because it’s hard to leave the prison, you forgot what it’s like to be free, and it’s hard to get used to it again. At least admit that your excuses are only that – excuses.
There are only two reasons why Jews will return to Israel: inspiration and desperation. Roughly half of the Jews in the world are already here, primarily because of inspiration. The rest of you will return eventually, one way or another, because that is the destiny of our people. It would be far preferable if you will return because of inspiration, but if you won’t do it for any other reason than desperation, that can be arranged.
Just consider what life in your foster home of choice looked like last Tisha B’av compared to today, just one year later. Even in America, the last stop on the train, the last year alone has seen the following: open anti-Semitism from the Wicked Witches of Congress the likes of which we have never seen before; normalization of open anti-Semitism within the Democratic party, major media outlets, and college campuses across the country; a surge of anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn and other major Jewish communities; multiple mass shootings in synagogues; Jews across the country getting used to the fact that their institutions require armed security and members require training to respond to attacks. All this in just the last year!
The country can no longer unite on even the most basic issues, like whether they should have borders, or babies should be allowed to live even after they are born, or whether America is good or evil, or whether the Constitution should be rendered irrelevant, or whether there should be celebration or disappointment if it turns out the President was not a Russian agent. Is America even a country anymore, or just a bunch of groups who loathe each other and are itching for a fight?
Maybe you would still be shocked if sometime in the next year we have a Kristallnacht in America, but I wouldn’t.
But it’s fine, really, it’s not so bad, it’s under control, we’re basically safe, it won’t get worse. Keep telling yourselves that. Because literally every single time over thousands of years that Jews said exactly that, they were horribly wrong, but YOU will be the first to say this and be right.
I wish… that you would wake up already and come home en masse.
I wish… that Jews from places like Venezuela, who earlier in the year said it’s not so bad, then realized it really is that bad and were forced to relocate, decided to go to Israel, not Panama or Miami. And I wish they didn’t hope to return to “their homes” in Venezuela as soon as possible. I’m sure you had a great community there, I really am. Come together to Israel and rebuild that great community here.
I wish… that the rest of the Jews in Europe, and North America, and everywhere else, instead of using their puny perceived political clout to receive more protection for their institutions, or to keep shechita legal, or to receive busing to their private schools, and consider that a “victory”…would come to Israel and make a real difference in the destiny of our people.
I wish… that our society could unite not only in times of tragedy, but also in times of calm. It is truly wonderful the way Jews care for their fellows in times of suffering, like when homes are burned down, or rockets rain down on cities. People open their homes and their wallets and do extraordinary things. It makes me proud to be part of this nation, even though you all drive me crazy.
But I wish that we could all be a little more sensitive to the quiet suffering that exists all around us. We are wonderful when it comes to helping people who are suffering from illness, or bereavement, or poverty…but what about those who are physically healthy, can pay their bills, but are suffering in other ways? All around us are lonely people, elderly people, widows, orphans, children who aren’t part of the popular crowd, singles, new people in the neighborhood, people who need a friend, friendship, a job, a connection, a smile, even a simple acknowledgment that they exist and someone cares.
They should not have to be sick or poor to receive a little more light in their lives from the people around them. They should not need to qualify for an organization to assist them in order to receive chessed. I wish we could all look a little deeper and try to help others in subtle ways that are no less important.
There is more that I wish for, but that is enough for now. In a few minutes I will once again be allowed to sit on a chair. I wish that this is truly the last year we have to do this. Let’s finally get this right, or at least right enough.
There is a wonderful celebration that I’d like to schedule for Tisha B’av one year from now, at the Beit Hamikdash. You’re all invited.