Every few years (the algorithms of the Hebrew calendar are beyond me), Yom Kippur and Shabbat coincide, as is the case this year. It's an interesting contrast of themes and dynamics: Shabbat is supposed to be a day of עונג/oneg/delight. On Shabbat we are supposed to enjoy the best food of the week, wear the best clothes of the week, sing and relax and, yes, pray with our community. Yom Kippur is supposed to be a day of עינוי/inu'i/self-affliction. On Yom Kippur we are supposed to fast, to wear white (the traditional color of mourning), reflect, look past physical pleasures and, yes, pray with our community.
These seem to be mutually exclusive. So how do we understand this potent day of Shabbat and Yom Kippur together?
I found some inspiration from Ariana Huffington, the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. Ms. Huffington is developing an initiative, The Third Metric, which aims to redefine success beyond the first two metrics of money and power to include well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and to give back.
Huffington said she personally uses mindfulness and meditation to help achieve those goals.
"Silence is an amazing way to recharge ourselves," she said.
Making time to incorporate this third measure of success can not only change your life, but transform the workplace, Huffington said, by helping people become more creative, productive and connected.
"Olympic athletes get naps. When performance really matters, taking care of yourself is key," she said.
In a speech to more than 800 women at the Women Of Influence luncheon that included Twitter Canada CEO Kirstine Stewart, Huffington stressed that the "hurry-up culture" is not working, and that the whole concept of multitasking is a myth. (Huffington Post, 9/11/13)
On Yom Kippur, the day of the year during which we are given the opportunity to take stock of our priorities, review our relationships with our families and friends and community and God, we should take God as our role model. God, ultimately, has "rochmones"/mercy on us when we approach life with integrity and good intention. Why shouldn't we be as kind to ourselves and those we love?
The underlying thread of the delight of Shabbat flowing under the challenges of Yom Kippur are the best of that Third Metric of Ms. Huffington's. Breath. Let go of that "hurry-up culture." On this ultimate Day of Awe, give yourself permission to feel that awe.
As Shabbat ends this coming Saturday evening, we will transition into the commemorative fast day of the 9th of Av. This date, in our tradition, has been associated with the destruction of both the First and Second Temples (in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and 70 AD by the Romans respectively).
Rabbinic sources place some responsibility for the destruction of the Temple on the shoulders of the Israelites themselves: In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 9b) we learn that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among the different Jewish communities living in the Land of Israel at the time.
Suddenly a fast that sounds archaic and anachronistic (why should we still mourn the loss of a building in which animal sacrifice was practiced?) becomes urgently contemporary: sadly, it is a phenomenon we experience all over the Jewish world, not just in Israel. One group, or denomination of Judaism condemns, rejects, belittles others because their practice or their theology, or their norms of dress and behavior, or their choice of rabbis, does not meet that groups standards. We Jews are not terribly successful at loving one another . . . and sometimes it's not even a matter of cross-denominational disdain . . . sometimes it's just about "the shul I wouldn't set foot in."
So should we mourn on the 9th of Av?
I'd say: a little bit. In a teshuvah written almost 30 years ago, Rabbi Tuvia Friedman, z"l* writing for the Israeli Masorti /Conservative Law Committee (Va'ad Halakahah): There is a clear historical precedent of canceling a fast on days in which the Jewish people was saved from a disaster. We have been so fortunate as to witness the founding of the State of Israel, where Jews are sitting on their land as a sovereign people. In light of this decisive change in the history of the Jewish people, I propose marking this change by not completing the fast of Tish'a b'Av, and concluding the fast with a Minhah Gedola service.
But I would also say that our observance of the fast of the 9th of Av should not end with the shortened fast, but should serve as a day to commit to pursuing the value of "k'vod hadadi", of mutual respect among the various denominations that comprise the Jewish world.
There may be room, therefore, for some mourning on this historic day of remembrance, but let us use the message of this day to develop what unites us as Jews and to approach each other with mutual respect and a sense of being one very extended family.
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.