Reflections on Tisha B’av

By Rabbi Nathan Martin*

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to both teach and participate in a Hazon conference that brought together over 25 Jewish organizations doing innovative environmental work. In one study session in particular I spent time with a group of 40 other participants excitedly cramped in a yurt studying the Jewish calendar. The teacher, Zelig Golden, the Director of Wilderness Torah, noted that Tisha B’Av, the day in which Jews honor the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and other historical tragedies, coincides with the hot dry period of summer. (This year Tisha B’Av is commemorated one day late, on August 14, so as not to conflict with Shabbat.) Zelig argued that this is not accidental; it made sense culturally to mark human tragedy at the time when the earth enters one of its least productive moments. The outer barrenness corresponds to our inner brokenness. Similarly, the month of TisGreen sprout in parched earthhrei which includes both Rosh Hashannah and the harvest festival of Sukkot, 40 days after Tisha B’Av, can be understood as the moment when we are gathering together new growth, nourishment, and possibility.

This calendrical cycle that we travel through may not always correspond to our inner state. We may not always feel a sense of brokenness on Tisha B’Av and we may not always feel a sense of renewal on Rosh Hashanah. But these calendar moments do have an important inner logic. By setting aside a particular day of communal mourning on Tisha B’Av, the rabbis created an opportunity to have the Jewish community as a whole acknowledge the multiple layers of loss and oppression it has experienced over the ages. Allowing ourselves to feel heartbreak in the heat of the summer can perhaps allow us to step more deeply into a harvest of renewal and possibility in the Fall.

So as we prepare to enter this High Holiday season, I invite each of us to take some time this month to acknowledge the losses we have experienced as a people. What have we lost? How has it impacted us? How might you mark this ‘dry’ time?

May our dwelling in the loss, even for a short period, allow us paradoxically to let it go in order to create space for a more hopeful future. May we see and realize that all of us are part of the blossoming Jewish people. And may we come together on Rosh Hashanah carrying with us not only a reckoning of our past mistakes but also a deepening commitment towards our flourishing as a Jewish community.

*Click here for more information about Rabbi Nathan, who will be leading AARC’s High Holy Day services this year.

And click here for more information about our High Holy Day services, including times, places, and other details. Services are ticketless and open to all.  Please join us.  (Rosh Hashanah starts on the evening of Sunday, Oct. 2; Yom Kippur starts on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 12.

D’varim, Tisha B’Av and the Meaning of Justice

My d’var Torah for Shabbat, July 24, 2015.

Painting: The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans

I want to talk today about what I see as a connection between two things: Tisha b’Av, the fast day that begins Saturday evening, and D’varim, this week’s parsha.

I’ll start with Tisha b’Av, the holiday when, traditionally, Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple and the forced exile of the Jews from Jerusalem.

Here’s a story, a fable, from the Talmud about how it is that that destruction came about:

There was a man who was very good friends with someone named Kamza and did not get along with another person with a similar name, Bar Kamza. This man was preparing to host a large banquet. He told his servant to invite his friend Kamza. But the servant made a mistake and invited Bar Kamza.

The host was very surprised to see his least favorite person, Bar Kamza, at his party, and ordered him to leave. But Bar Kamza did not want to be thrown out; he thought that would be humiliating. So he offered to pay for his portion of food. The host refused. Bar Kamza next offered to pay for half of the expenses of the large party. Still the host refused. Finally, Bar Kamza offered to pay for the entire banquet. In anger, the host grabbed Bar Kamza and physically threw him out. [Read more…]