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The Lost HOliday of Sadness #637

07/24/2020 06:30:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

The Lost Holiday of Sadness


There is a story told about Napoleon Bonaparte, who — one summer evening more than 2,000 years ago — took a walk through the streets of Paris.

As his entourage passed a synagogue, he heard the voices of the Jews inside crying and weeping. He sent an aid inside to find out what was going on.

A few minutes later, the aid returned with an explanation: The Jews were mourning the destruction of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant.

“How is it possible that their Temple was destroyed, and no one told me?” said Napoleon. “When did this happen?”

His aid replied, “No Sir, the Temple was not recently destroyed. The Jews lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago.”

Napoleon stood quiet for a moment and then observed, "Certainly a people that has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"

And, Napoleon was right. We are still here — and so is Jerusalem.

Friends, this upcoming week is a particularly challenging one. Next Wednesday evening, we will sit on the floor by candlelight or flashlight and remember the destruction of two temples that once stood in Jerusalem.

The first, Solomon’s Temple, was burned and leveled by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and on that same Hebrew date in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the second Temple — of which only a retaining wall, the Western Wall, remains.

So, across the Jewish world, we will pause and remember those two tragic events along with many more that occurred on this date — the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av.

On this day, years apart, Jews were expelled from England, France and Spain. In 1941, the Nazis agreed on the “Final Solution.”  In 1942, deportations began from the Warsaw Ghetto. And the list goes on.

So, while many Jewish holidays are based upon stories of victory or close calls — this one, Tisha B’Av, reminds us of the tortuous journey of our people toward the freedom we currently enjoy.

And, this week in synagogue, while we begin reading the fifth and final book of the Torah — Devarim — literally “words,” this Shabbat will also be marked by its alternate name, Shabbat Chazon — the Shabbat of foretelling, which is commemorated, just prior to Tisha B’Av.

Why should we care?

Perhaps because sometimes we need to focus not only upon the uplifting aspects of our religion — but also upon its challenges, for these are part of life’s very fabric.

Each year, when possible, I try to visit Israel, and each year I marvel at how, as Napoleon Bonaparte foretold, Jerusalem is being rebuilt.

I notice Jews, Arabs and Christians passing each other in peace through Jerusalem’s outdoor Mamilla Mall. All three Abrahamic religions worship in relative freedom. The relationship may not be perfect, but it’s probably better than at any point in history.

Jerusalem is slowly being restored as a diplomatic capital. And, as my mentor, the late Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, once noted, “Young people are launching startups that are creating new medical, environmental and technological possibilities.”

Jerusalem is rising before our eyes.

Yet there is still a cautionary note: Anti-Semitism is on the rise. The Internet is being misused by some as a hotbed of hate aimed toward both Israel and the Jewish people.

And peace in Israel is still a distant dream.

So on this, the week where we pause and read the story of the destruction of the first Temple, let us be inspired not only to think about how much has improved for the Jewish people — but also to renew our vigilance in preventing the destruction of future temples — wherever they may be.

We pause to feel the pain of those who perished or witnessed Tisha B’Av, and to acknowledge how God has delivered us into better days.

More than 800 years ago, Maimonides observed that you never know what God has in store for you until all is revealed.

It is one reason why we eat an egg on Passover, or — in the Sephardic tradition — after we return from the cemetery. Indeed, as life continues to cycle, we move back and forth from happy to sad, from comfort to distress, from challenge to achievement.

There are many who ask, “Why celebrate the destruction of temples, which occurred thousands of years ago?”

And the answer is that not only should Judaism celebrate its victories, but also experience its tragedies, no matter how uncomfortable they may make us feel.

Yes, Jerusalem is rising once more, but let us never forget that many times in our history all has looked secure. Tisha B’Av also reminds to remain on guard — to build bridges with those who surround us.

Please join us this Wednesday on Zoom as we read the storied Book of Lamentations — a firsthand account of Jerusalem in ruins.

Observance of Tisha B’Av may not be on the top-10 list for most Jews, but it is crucial that we acknowledge it as we remember to never forget.

Napoleon Bonaparte was right 200 years ago. Jews survive not only because we know how to laugh, but also because we are not afraid to cry.

And in so doing, our Temples continue to rise.

For it is the combination of both types of tears that makes us whole.

Shabbat Shalom, v’kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780