I'm still dizzy from Tisha beAv, which was very difficult for me this year. I never gave the holiday much thought until a few years ago when I began to attend its dark, flashlit evening service. The day was sad and poignant, but never personal. Unlike Yom Kippur, when I felt the acute pain of my own sorrow, I was far less hurt by Tisha beAv and the emotions of communal loss that we're demanded to experience.
This year was different. Maybe I've grown up, become more aware of the broken world around me. Or perhaps my Israel trip, or the daily reading of dispatches from an acquaintance in Beirut, increased my sensitivity to the pain of others besides myself. Maybe my chanting of Eikha forced me to encounter words of grief on a more intimate basis than ever before. These past few weeks I've been hoarse from allergies and air conditioning; my singing was as rough-edged and breathless as the words themselves.
In past years we've had post-service discussions of our responsibilities as Jews and citizens of the world. This Tisha beAv, instead, we read traditional Psalms of distress and rebuke, since no other words seemed appropriate:
Save us, Lord; the Sovereign will answer us on the day when we call.
For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, Because of Your indignation and wrath; for You have lifted me up, and cast me down.
Who, in our grief, are we really calling? Is God apart from us or within us? Do we drown in our grief, in our state of being cast down, or do we listen to our own call and take action?
Yesterday afternoon we studied commentary by the great sages on words we just chanted:
"Take us back, Lord, to Yourself, And let us come back... "(Lamentations 5:21): ... God said to them, 'It depends upon you, as it is said, "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, says the Lord of Hosts." (Mal. 3:7). The Community spoke before God: "Lord of the Universe, it depends upon You, as it is said, Restore us, O God of our salvation" (Ps. 85:5), and therefore it is said, take us back, Lord, to Yourself, And let us come back.
It seems like we can argue forever about who's supposed to take the first step. But perhaps the very fact of this debate is part of the answer--both parties are communicating, and a door has been opened. In the haftarah for Tisha beAv afternoon, just as we're in the deepest pit of sorrow, we're given even more hope of escape:
Yea, you shall leave in joy and be led home secure.
Before you, mount and hill shall shout aloud,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands...
Thus said the Lord:
Observe what is right and do what is just;
For soon my salvation shall come,
And my deliverance be revealed.
I'm struck by God's omission of the actual solution: how do we know "what is right and what is just"? God, I think, trusts us to get it right. As we begin the path to Elul and days of reflection and the asking of forgiveness, I pray that we're wise enough to figure it out, once and for all.