Sunday, August 10, 2008

718. Cycle

I still don't like this holiday. Last night I dreamt I was taking a big, important Jewish quiz and was failing miserably, as an examiner sat on the other side of the table and threw out words and concepts I couldn't identify. Then I awoke and remembered it was Tisha be-Av, symbolic culmination of all our collective guilt about failure, transgression, weakness, and lack of faith. This holiday is beginning to feel more a marker of the passage of time for me than even Rosh Hashana and the new year. I'm always reminded that another summer is almost gone and another cycle of heshbon hanefesh, accounting of the soul, is about to begin. And I never feel ready. I want more slow, hot, lazy days to fuel myself for the work ahead, and wish I had put the ones that just passed to better use.

Services last night seemed more somber than usual; perhaps it was just me, again confused about chanting such horrible words to a pretty tune, not nervous, glad to be doing this, as always, but also dreading it. In some ways Eikha is the most difficult trop for me to sing. I never seem to start on the right note, always too low or too high (as last night), and have trouble navigating the wide tonal range while also trying to breathe properly as I sit cross-legged on the floor, hunched over sheets of text and fumbling with a flashlight. It always turns out fine, albeit a little ragged, and I think my struggle is appropriate for the day. And there was a moment last night, as we all joined in the last words of the fifth chapter--

Hashivenu Adonai eilecha...
Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

that I heard our voices building on each other like bricks in a fortress wall, and felt strong and protected. I thought of last summer, when I knew this day marked the beginning of the end of my sister-in-law's journey--and then remembered my dear niece, who weathered a year of mourning and emerged on the other side with a great new job, and an even better loving relationship. And my brother, who has also again found comfort and companionship. As if to get the point across, one particular line of Shaharit caught my eye this morning:

"Tears may linger for a night, but joy comes with the dawn." (Psalm 30:6)

After services we studied a text about our partnership with God. Do we ask for God's help this day without justifying our worthiness? Is God, as our partner, expected to give us that help even if we don't hold up our end of the bargain? I don't know the answer, but take comfort in the fact that the cycle of tears and laughter will always continue despite our mistakes, and God's as well.


Regina said...

Oh, has it been a year already?
I am happy, though, of the news of your niece and brother- we do seem to go on with our lives, despite the pain, and our lives through the pain become somehow richer for it.
My dad's 2nd anniversary is coming up far too quickly for me... I still find myself reeling.
I loved your last paragraph- it's thought provoking. I personally think God always wants us to ask for His help, yes, even and most of all, when we don't deserve it.
I've come to need Him now, more than ever...
Thanks aa...

George said...

Don't forget that here in Israel the day after Tisha B'Av marks the beginning of the wedding season. Two years ago, my elder son got married on Tu B'Av (he got special leave from the war in Lebanon). In just over two weeks time, my elder daughter will be getting married. The day after, we have another wedding to go to and a third wedding three days later.

alto artist said...

George, mazal tov!! I didn't know that so many people got married in Israel right after Tisha be-Av, but of course it makes perfect sense. (I guess it happens here, too, but to a lesser degree.) It is indeed a great reminder that there's still hope in the world. All the best to your family!

Regina, I like the thought that God always wants us to ask for help... sometimes I feel certain about this partnership, and other times not. I guess that's what faith is all about, a dance of advancing and retreating...


George said...

One of the best examples I have heard recently of faith is the reaction of the father of Nachshon Wachsman, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and murdered in October 1994. After the parents were given the terrible news of their son's murder, the head of Nachshon's yeshiva, Rav Mordechai Elon, tried to comfort the family.
"You know," he said, "there are times when God doesn't answer our prayers."
The reply from Nachshon's father was swift and forthright.
"God always answers our prayers. This time the answer was 'No.'"

alto artist said...

Very, very belatedly responding to your last comment--thank you. I try to remember that however I interpret God's response, or lack thereof, to my prayers has nothing to do with God's presence--because my ability to fathom what God can do is infinitesimal.