Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tisha b'av: pain and glory

I have been thinking over the last 3 weeks what I wanted to write about tisha ba'av this year.

I have also been thinking, over the last 8 weeks of being sidelined, splinted, hurting from and depressed by the inflamed tendons in my arms from ukulele playing (!) about pain.

Tisha b'av is the day we cry for all the things in our history that are worthy of tears, from the root causes and huge events of our destruction and exile to the 'smaller' tragedies of individuals.

We think about certain tragedies at a great remove - like, the Spanish Inquisition, right? No one thinks that anything like that can happen again. The Jews carted off as slaves to Rome after the second Temple was destroyed - certainly, it was horrible, but it's not 'shiyach' to our generation. And of course, the massive war and genocide of the Holocaust seems like a black-and-white historical event committed by a backwards nation; now we have color film, Twitter, a Mars rover and antibiotics - impossible to happen.

And yet.
Our next door neighbor is Syria.

Next door.

And it's falling to pieces. Torture and fear and no food and no medicine and cruelties and briberies and orphans and the kind of choices we associate with black and white pictures, all live and in color in Syria.

Next door.

(I have heard it said that Syria is Milchemes Gog uMagog)

And I'm ignorant, I know, of other global tragedies in progress beyond my own 'neighborhood'. But I know they are there.


Last night I was reading To Vanquish The Dragon, surprisingly for the first time. I stayed up very late reading, then finally got up off the floor to go to bed. I was locking up the back porch door, and thinking about this illusion of security we have. In the book Pearl Benisch describes the German soldiers in Poland just breaking in to the Jews homes and assaulting them. And as I lock my gate I think, ah, but I have a gate. And we have a Jewish country, an army, and police, and more. So that would never happen again.

And then I think of Har Nof a few years ago. And I think of Chalamish, last week.

And indeed, in the times of the Beis Hamkidash, we also had a Jewish country, albeit often occupied.

And I know that when Hashem wants something to happen, gates don't matter, armies don't matter, politics don't matter.

I lock my gate anyway.


Nothing happens for no reason. With these weeks of partial-disability of my hands (you use your hands for so many things!) I have asked myself over and over, what is Hashem trying to teach me? Why is this happening? True, it has proven over and over the generosity and patience of my husband - but was that it? What message was I supposed to take from it?

Still not sure. I have some vague ideas, but still not sure.


I had so many ideas in the last three weeks of what to talk about now.

Such a strange day, this bubble of time when we cry over the millions and millions of hurts and attacks, physical and spiritual, of thousands of years.

Such a strange thing, that despite that bubble last night I still had my girls and their friends working on making play slime here for the tisha b'av camp they are running right now. Playing with goo, trying to remember the somber nature of the night, but still having fun.

Such a strange thing, that tomorrow (!) we leave for our long-awaited epic vacation, so between thoughts of the day and our sorrows, I have thoughts of packing and planning. I always like to clean on tisha b'av afternoon to prepare for Mashiach, but this time it will be also be cleaning up for those using our apartment while we're away.

It's a strange day. It's a pain-filled day. But it has its glory.

Every day we must remember leaving Egypt, we have a mitzva to do so. To remember that God redeemed us then. And to believe he will redeem us again.

We may not be en masse physically tortured or enslaved like in some generations. But we are sorely in need of redemption nonetheless. We have our own tortures, less evident, but very much there.

Tisha b'av is when we cry for all the pain, all the hurt, all the cruel realities. It is when we can yell to God, Abba, look at us, it hurts!! It hurts! 

It hurts so much.

Physical pain, spiritual desolation, emotional distress, trauma, twisted relationships, abuse, aloneness, ignorance, confusion, hunger, illness. Fear. Dread. Pain.



So I realize I have no clue how big a nation we are. We're researching stuff for our trip, and I found a map of bungalow colonies and summer camps in upstate NY. There are tons of them. I have no concept of how large the Jewish nation is. Israel is so small, and despite the millions of people here everyone seems to know someone who knows anyone. And I'm from Houston, where we really did know everyone. So I'm trying to wrap my head around how big our nation is.

That is so many people to share our pain. So many people's pain to share.

But we do it, and especially today.

If we are doing our jobs properly as Jews, then yes, we share our pains, since we are all one people.

And specifically because there are so many of us, that's why we need tisha b'av to cry. It would be too much to cry every day.


Back to my arms... During the first couple weeks, the discomfort and restriction of my hands was like a black cloud over me. Everything my entire day was affected by it. Eating was hard. Cooking food, not an option. I contemplated drinking less so I wouldn't have to deal with the restroom. Holding my daughters hands while we said shema - hard.  Doing their hair, nope. Washing dishes - heck, I'm still not washing dishes. Sleeping was even a challenge, since my arms were all trussed up in splints (still doing that). (In fact, typing this I've taken off my splint like 4 times, since typing on my home computer in a split is hard - but if I take it off it's uncomfortable.)

Eventually I recovered a healthier outlook on things (and stopped being quite as physically restricted) and I manged to lift that cloud a bit. But that I had to make the effort, and that it took so long, really surprised me.

Mourning is a process. Mourners will tell you that they never 'forget' the pain of what they have lost - it's just kinda there with you all the time.

Now, I cannot complain. This arm-episode for me has been such a blip on the radar, such a minor thing compared to other medical issues people face, and IY"H I will continue to recover and put it behind me soon.

But coming back to tisha b'av... so many mourners. So many sorrows. Their pain could crush them.

And so we share it.

That is the gift Hashem has given us with tisha b'av, a day where we as a people cry out about our collective pain.

And that is the glory of tisha b'av, that we are the kind of people for whom another's pain is as real to us as our own.

I wasn't in the Holocaust. My side of the family has no one who was even involved, except my grandfather as a captured American soldier; horrible, but not the same.

I wasn't in the Spanish Inquisition.

And I wasn't in either Beis Hamikdash.

But today I cry for all of those things. For what we suffered, as individuals. For what we lost, as a people together. For the collective breakdown in our relationship with God. And in hope for the renewal of all things, and our redemption.


I have now moved off to the floor, to my desk and chair.

My house is quiet. Yoav is still in shul.

Outside I hear children playing. I hear a couple of IDF planes fly by.

Sroch and Llama are in the next building, running a kaitana  with two friends for 12 (!) little kids. They have two more hours to go.

Sroch is 11... she has been fasting since last night, but planned to break it at chatzos, about fifteen minutes ago.

Both girls keep talking about how we may miss our trip because mashiach is coming today. They have no doubts. No questions. They honestly would prefer our redemption and the third Beis Hamikdash to any proposed vacation or treat.

May that hope, that belief, that love of God and trust in him also be shared throughout our nation, and may indeed we miss that flight tomorrow because the airport is clogged with millions of Jews coming home to our redeemed land, amen.

PS- nice article on Israel's humanitarian efforts in Syria

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