When faced with difficult situations, past, present, or future, do we see problems or potential? “Old ideas” tend to raise many objections in our modern day hearts, but inherited traditions often have much to teach us if we are willing to take the time to search out the lessons for our day and in our own lives.
Saturday night begins Tisha B’Av, coming right on the heals of Shabbat. A day which is almost always reserved for Oneg (joy) has its energy intruded upon by the somber themes of our people’s national day of mourning. One particular example is that Havdallah is modified on Saturday when Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday, and during Shabbat more melancholy tunes creep into our Friday night and Shabbat morning services including the cantillation of Lamentations itself.
This Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Hazon, The Shabbat of Vision or prophecy. The day gets its name from the first word of the Haftarah we recite tomorrow; a vision of Isaiah the prophet that is in keeping with the prophetic admonition directed towards our people as a result of our having abandoned God’s Torah.
As I eluded to above, we are challenged quite strongly by the suggested theology of Tisha B’av. Namely, that tragedy and disaster are punishment for sins seems alien to many modern Jews. And yet, as taught by Rabbi David Seidenberg:
“Tisha B’Av could not be more relevant than it is today, when the crisis of war refugees and fear of terrorism have overwhelmed the political process in so many countries. We think of Tisha B’Av as a time of mourning, but it is more importantly a call to identify with the experience of refugees who are forced to risk their lives and even
their children’s lives in order to escape violence, hunger, devastation. That’s what the Jewish people went through when the Temple, and the nation and society it stood for, were destroyed, when they became “like deer, not finding a place to graze, walking without strength before a pursuer.” (1:6)
Tomorrow I will be discussing the right of a guilty person to challenge the severity of his/her punishment, specifically the punishment of Cain due to his actions against his brother Abel. For the sake of this conversation I am taking the stance that while the book of Lamentations seems to accept that Israel was due for some punishment, many times we find in the text the sentiment that the destruction of the Holy City and the exile of the people was too much. Think of people we know who commit crimes but are unfairly treated by our judicial system. Let us all think of standing before God, guilty of at times missing the mark, but perhaps feeling like we have suffered more than our fair share in the past year. Are we allowed to cry out to God, as Cain did, and say, “That is too much for me to bear.”
9:00pm – On Saturday night we will be focusing on all people as Rachel’s children and how our people’s tragedy must lead to empathy for all.
8:30am – Sunday morning’s minyan will keep the somber tone and allow us to continue ruminating on the themes of the day.
2:00pm – Sunday Mincha will move us to a place of discovery. What is out there for us today to help us bear the memory of tragedy and move forward?
8:30pm – An intimate maariv service and light break-fast at the home of Muriel Horowitz for those looking for a place to conclude their observance of the day.
May the word vision remind us that with the prophets’ prognostications of doom, also came promises of new hope. We are all the prophets of today. We must find it within ourselves to keep our hopes alive for a better tomorrow, even as we see tragedy around us today.
I wish everyone a meaningful day that launches a period marked by community, contemplation and action.
Rabbi Daniel Victor
Reb Victor has been the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth-El since 2015. He received his rabbinic ordination and a Master’s in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.