Wednesday, August 3, 2011
In the Mood of Mourning
[According to Jewish tradition, the month of Av is a month of morning and serious reflection particularly on the destruction of Yerushalayim / Jerusalem. The 9th of Av is a 25-hour fast commemorating the ultimate destruction of our Holy Temple and many other disasters of the Jewish people. This is a reflection on my experience of Av]
I sometimes imagine Al-Quds and Yerushalayim as transparencies projected on the same blank piece of land. They are different worlds inhabiting the same time and the same space originating in two realities. I know that I don’t fully appreciate either. I am very much an outsider to both. Al-Quds, I see from a distance, the dots of worshippers at Al-Aqsa seen from a “safe” distance, Arab children puzzled as I slip by the gate few Jews slip by, or the gold dome overhead as I pray by the ruin of the wall.
Yerushalayim, I know a little better. “Yerushalayims” I should say, the tourist center, home of the fancy institute I attended for a few summers, the somewhat dour religious neighborhood where I stayed, the synagogues tucked into corners pumping out prayer services, places to shop and look cool and be kosher in an outdoor café.
There is the Yerushalayim of Zionist triumphalism that I don’t know so well. When I saw the videos of the Jerusalem Day parade this year, I was acutely aware that I did not understand the pride of ownership and entitlement to G-d’s city.
Right or wrong, my Yerushalayim is the Yerushalayim of the month of Av. It is the Yerushalayim of the old time Jew of the Diaspora. My Yerushalayim is an orphan. My Yerushalayim embodies the brokenness of the world. Like the homeless beggar who has found a fancy fur coat, the external beauties of Yerushalayim only make it look more pathetic. Each new luxury high rise offering the wealthy the authentic Jerusalem experience seems to me, in the mindset of the month of Av, to thinly veil the fragile spiritual city wasting away beneath the fancy garments. The squabbles over Jewish land grabs, the violence that simmers barely beneath the surface where Yerushalayim and Al-Quds inevitably rub shoulders, speaks to me. It reminds me again and again. “This is not it.”
The Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred.
-Talmud Bavli (Yoma 9b)
Mourning is a strange mode of service of G-d. Mourning Yerushalayim means projecting the transparency of our ancient destroyed city over its modern successor. More importantly, it means piercing through all the transparencies and laying bare the human reality that in Yerushalayim, the center or our world, we are still ruled by baseless hatred. That hatred was the force of destruction that marred our connection to G-d, that destroyed our Holy Temple and sent us to the ends of the earth, as if shoved from the table of our Father. That hatred still corrodes the heart of the world. The channels that once conveyed the light of Yerushalayim to the rest of the world convey a darkness and entropy that is felt in every corner of the world. The un-rectified Yerushalayim is not just a Jewish tragedy it is a universal, even cosmic, tragedy
There will be those who will see “baseless hatred” in narrow national terms. Hatred between fellow Jews caused the destruction. As they say, “you have what to depend on.” It’s true that is certainly how most commentators have probably understood it for most of our history. We have been very inward looking. That has made us very introspective and in many ways extraordinarily attentive to each other’s needs. It has also made us myopic. It is time to consider that maybe baseless hatred is a bigger problem.
Rabbi Yehoshua said: An evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred of others (lit. of the creations) remove a person from the world.
-Pirkei Avot 2:16
Rashi glosses hatred here as “sinat chinam” – baseless hatred. The very same baseless hatred mentioned in the Talmud, not just of fellow Jews but also of all others.
As Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out here, the term for “others” is simply “briyot” creations. It’s a word that points to the lowest common denominator in mankind, our being creatures. Our respect for human beings originates in the creation of man by G-d as the pinnacle of His creation. We need no other reason not to hate and beyond that no other reason to love.
If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam.
-Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)
Ribbono shel Olam,
Please give us more than vain tears. Let us really feel the brokeness of Av and help us transform that pain into a drive to repair, to really believe that we can repair what is destroyed. May confronting the rule of hatred in ourselves and in our world motivate us to initiate and cultivate the rule of love.