The Destruction is really about love. And it’s also about the absence of love and what happens when we withhold love and allow hate to exist within and between us….
Last night began Tisha B’Av. If you went to a Jewish summer camp or came from an observant home, you know what that means. But for anyone who hasn’t yet learned about or experienced Tisha B’Av (translation: the 9th day of the month of Av) or needs a refresher; it’s the day that Jews all over the world mourn for the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples that were destroyed in Jerusalem. Yep, the Kotel or the Western Wall. The very area that we make sure to visit when we go to Israel – where a wall and some other remnants still remain – that is where the Temple once stood. It’s also the day that Jews tend to remember all of the persecution and antipathy that the Jewish people have had to endure over the year. And yes, the list is long and tragic.
The Temple in our ancestors lives was central. It was their place for worship, for sacrifices, it was the center of politics and government and religion. It was even the place where they hosted their bbq’s and celebrations and visited in moments of profound regret and suffering. Can you imagine what it must have been like to watch such a place burning down? With the destruction came the loss of the holy sites, countless lives and the Jewish home, as after the destructions our ancestors were forced into exile.
Every year, we remember these tragedies. If you show up at any synagogue (last night or this morning) you’ll find people entering quietly, withholding from exchanging any pleasantries or even hellos. You’ll find people holding candles or flashlights for light but mostly sitting on the ground in darkness and you’ll feel that feeling that you feel when entering a shiva home after a tragedy: A feeling of shared sadness and loss.
We spend the night telling the story from a book called Eicha (pronounced Ay-cha) or Lamentations (in English) and we fast and sing sad but beautiful songs. The story that we tell is haunting: It’s a story of a people that were hated, mocked, hurt and suffering in every way imaginable, and yet no one came to our aid. It’s a story of a time when we questioned Gd’s love for us and felt homeless, aimless, and alone. It’s sad and painful to read. But in the end (spoiler alert): We find our way. We rise up. We rebuild. We find that God is eager to love us again. And perhaps more important than anything, in the end – we find hope.
Our sages understand this day to be a reminder of all of the evil and suffering that has been imposed upon the Jewish People throughout our history. (And that alone, is actually worth crying for). But what our sages also suggest is that the reason that the 1st and 2nd Temples were destroyed was because of “baseless hatred”. Baseless hatred that existed even among the Jewish People. (There’s a story that they tell that illustrates this internal hatred but I’ll save that for another time). For now, I’ll offer this: If it was hatred that caused the destruction, perhaps it is love that can help us rebuild.
There was no one who loved better or more wholeheartedly than the great Rav Kook. Rav Kook was an Orthodox rabbi, and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi In Israel. But what is particularly notable to me about Rav Kook is that he was also one of the most devoted rabbis in defending and honoring and loving the entire Jewish People, religious and secular alike. Because of this, he would pack the pews when he spoke and inspire people from all walks of Jewish life. Below is one of my favorite pieces of Rav Kook’s wisdom. He wrote it in a book called Kovetz but I imagine him preaching these words from the bimah and they always give me chills:
“Listen to me, my people.
From my soul I speak to you.
From the soul of my soul, I must love you with endless love.
I love everything. I can not help but love all people, all peoples.
I want in the depths of my heart the glory of everything, the healing of everything.
My love for Israel is more passionate and deeper, but the inner desire spreads out to a love for everything.
I have no need to force this feeling of love, it stems directly from the sacred depth of the wisdom of the divine soul.”
How magnificent is that?!? What Rav kook suggests, is that the work of loving the Jewish People, and the work of defending it both collectively and individually, is not only emotional work, but a great and holy discipline. “My love for this people is deeper and greater but my love extends out to everything. I love everything and everyone but I love my people more.”
On this Tisha B’Av let us spend the day, or at least a part of it, figuring out how we can love from the soul of our souls with endless love. And love all things and all people. Yet love our people (ALL our people) even more.