Parashat Va'et'hanan Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
I have not been alone in my fascination this week with the aftermath of the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates. Yesterday's conference during which the four gentlemen mentioned above each imbibed his favorite American brew was a brilliant move in terms of leadership, of walking the talk, of role-modeling conflict resolution on a human scale and a lot more.
But it was also a very Jewish moment, impressive considering that there weren't actually any Jews at the table!
This past week, we observed the fast of the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av) which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem centuries apart but on the same date. One rabbinic response to this calamity which appears in the Talmud is an admonishment to Israel: the Temple was destroyed because Israel forgot God's values and principles by indulging in bias and senseless hatred . . . or, in a parallel text, by indulging in libelous and destructive speech.
Some human foibles, apparently, never go away.
This Shabbat we read the very moving passage from Isaiah "Nachamu, nachamu ami" / "be comforted, be comforted My people." The healing process begins after the wounds have been opened up by prejudice and slander.
I don't know if life imitates art . . . but this week, life is imitating Torah.
How does this kind of healing take place? By reversing the forces of hatred and bigotry and replacing them with openness, courage and respect. The New York Times reported on the White House "beer summit", emphasizing that the press was not allowed within earshot of the table under the magnolia tree. But Professor Gates reported on a "pre-summit" exchange that, to my mind, reflects those healing characteristics:
"The two men [Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley] and their families first encountered each other in the White House library while each group was on individual tours of the White House on Thursday afternoon.
'Nobody knew what to do," Professor Gates said. "So I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, 'It's a pleasure to meet you.' That broke the awkwardness.'"
Nachamu, nachamu ami . . . that's how it's done.
Parashat D'varim Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22
This coming week, we will observe the fast of Tisha B'Av. "Tisha" is Hebrew for the number 9. Av is the current Hebrew month. As you will learn from the short article below, this date has taken on a heavy burden of grief for our people as a national and religious entity. I bring you this short article from a wonderful website: www.myjewishlearning.com. This site is a very reliable and accessible resource for information on Jewish tradition, observances, culture and history.
A Day of Disaster
Many calamitous events are said to have occurred on Tisha B'Av.
By Rabbi Robert Goodman
Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.).
Tisha B'Av has become the collective day of mourning in the Jewish calendar. Many tragic events are reputed to have occurred on this date. In some cases there is a question as to the precise dating of an event. For instance, with regard to the destruction of the First and Second Temples, some 656 years apart but on the same date--the 9th of Av--some sources indicate that the First Temple was destroyed on either the seventh or the 10th of Av, and the Second Temple was destroyed on the 10th of Av; rabbinic authorities, however, decided to mark the ninth of Av as the official date for remembering the destruction of both.
-Tisha B'Av serves to bind all of the following tragic events together in one day of mourning and remembering. [Tradition has it that] on the ninth of Av:
-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., established a heathen temple [in Jerusalem] and rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city.
-The First Temple (that Solomon built) was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, in 586 B.C.E.
-The Second Temple (that returning exiles built and then Herod rebuilt) was destroyed by Titus and the Romans in 70 C.E.
-The Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from England was signed by King Edwald I in 1290.
-Ferdinand and Isabella decreed this to be the official date of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Led by Isaac Abarbanel, 300,000 Jews began to leave Spain on that date. Columbus set out on his first voyage of discovery on the day after Tisha B'Av (after delaying his sailing by one day).
Rabbi Robert Goodman is a former consultant to the Boards of Jewish Education in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. He is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida.
Most traditional Jewish communities observe this fast as a sign of mourning from sundown to sundown (this week from Wednesday night through Thursday night). A highly respected Conservative Jewish opinion with which I identify states that the fact of the existence of the State of Israel should be reflected in our ritual practices and observances. For this reason, there are many of us who cut our fast short following minchah in the afternoon of the 9th of Av. Our mourning is lessened by our deep joy in the existence of the State of Israel.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.