Sunday, August 14, 2005

144. Tisha be'Av

(Digressing, once again.)

Today is Tisha be'Av, a holiday in remembrance of many sad events. Some believe, however, that we should no longer be mournful on this day, since a Jewish state exists; we've fulfilled our dreams. (The cousin of a friend, in fact, is getting married today.) It's confusing, like any situation in which you're expected to experience a particular emotion. Depending upon where your heart might be at that moment, what's prescribed doesn't always feel right. On Friday the rabbi taught that sages of centuries past declared this a day of reflection upon our own role in the causing of communal and individual suffering. (And he suggested that today's government leaders would be much less likely to invent such a holiday.) Jews have certainly been victims of injustice. But we've also stood by while others were being victimized, and this is a day to accept responsibility for those acts.

Last night we read Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, while sitting on the floor in darkness, and discussed a Talmudic text about the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel, who in their writings both edited out some of God's "divine attributes." (In words we say every day during the Amidah, Moses calls God "great, awesome, and mighty." Jeremiah, citing the fact that God allowed the destruction of the Temple, eliminates "awesome." Daniel, citing, slavery, eliminates "mighty.") The Rabbis of the Great Assembly, however, restored mention of these attributes to Jewish prayer. Who was correct? On the one hand, what chutzpah of Jeremiah and Daniel to change the words of the greatest leader of all, the only one in our tradition who encountered God "panim el panim," face to face. On the other hand, what right did the Rabbis of the Great Assembly have to deny the legitimacy of individual opinion, and the importance of prayer as an expression of how we each relate to God? Such is a dilemma of Tisha be'Av. Should we fast because our tradition says so, or have events of recent history changed our need to remember in this particular way?

Someone else last night commented that he was at a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) service during which the rabbi--who was Orthodox--explained that he would not be reciting the mourner's kaddish, the prayer in remembrance of the dead, at the end as is traditional, because the words of the kaddish are about the glory of God. And nothing at all about the Holocaust warranted mention of God's glory.

So this holiday, in addition to marking many sad events, also reminds us of the tension between following rules and cultural norms instead of one's own gut--a struggle that itself has precipitated tragedies. This evening I'll be chanting haftarah, a passage from Isaiah about how God will bring us joy and a place in the world to come--"yad vashem," "a monument and a name"--if we follow His rules. It's a comforting thought, but I wish it were that simple. I'm continually grateful for a tradition that encourages me to wrestle with these questions.


Regina said...

Thank you for posting this, aa... very enlightening to my Gentile frame of reference. I have read Lamentations in honor of Tisha B'Av and I was struck by its awesome sadness- but yet, there was still hope to be found in its final paragraphs... the "yad vashem"- it is comforting...

alto artist said...

And thank you for writing about it on your blog, as well...reading it made me think about the holiday even more. The haftarah for today is read on the afternoon of other fast days, as well--it doesn't specifically go with this holiday, as do most of the sections from the Prophets that are paired up with Torah readings. So the questions it inadvertently raises are even more pointed, in a way. But, I agree--ultimately, the message really is a comfort.