The quest for balance, interrupted
At 2:00am New York time, I wrote these words:
Cease fire. Who knows whether it will hold, and who knows whether or to whom it will be of benefit. Israel has committed itself to the task of destroying an infrastructure of tunnels that pose a terrifying threat to her citizens. Hopefully, whatever agreement is ultimately reached will include the completion of that task to the mutual benefit of Israelis and Palestinians. Hopefully, this time will empower voices of wisdom and moderation to prevail against the grip of terror and extremism. Hopefully, those who advocate for economic prosperity, mutual recognition and responsible governance will seize this moment to paint a picture of the possible. In the interim, I catch my breath and consider where I am on the Jewish calendar, only to be reminded once again of the dangers all types of extremism represent.
This coming Monday night and Tuesday, we commemorate Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month Av), the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, as we recall the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and several other tragic events of our past. We actually begin a period of mourning three weeks before the date (no weddings, among other things), and intensify our mourning in the last nine days. Our sages teach us that the Holy Temple fell due to the baseless hatred Jews harbored against one another. In the face of an oppressive Roman presence, the Jewish community of two thousand years ago fell in on itself. Political alliances, religious sectarian infighting and power-hungry leaders rendered the Jewish community fractured and vulnerable. The Temple was destroyed, and in the wake of the unthinkable disaster, Judaism had to recreate itself.
When we teach the lessons of Tisha B’Av today, we focus on the values of respecting one another despite our differences, hearing each other’s opinions, and searching for roads to peace between us. The recreated Judaism of the rabbis taught us that we learn best when paired with others, especially with whom we disagree. In so doing, we allow our basic assumptions to be challenged, we learn to refine our own positions and to make room for the opinions of others. We discover a greater sense of compassion and we give ourselves the possibility of growth.
Some day, God willing soon, it will be time for us to consider how we move forward from this conflict as a Jewish community. We need to express our anger, frustrations and fears, but doing so at the expense of our ability to learn from one another leads only to baseless hatred and destruction.
This was my prayer before sleep last night:
This Tisha B’Av, I pray that we find and hold our center; that we rediscover the language of respect; that we embrace and learn from our plurality and dissonance of opinions; that we combat our own tendencies toward extremism; and that our neighbors have the strength and courage to do the same.
But the light of day brings news of a suicide bomber’s attack, the fear of an IDF soldier’s kidnapping, and a fiercely desperate Israeli response with more civilian casualties. And I am knocked off balance again. And the only voices I can hear are the cries of a kidnapped soldier’s parents. And on this morning, I must tell you, compassion for anyone else is so much harder to feel.
Dear God, in this time of mourning, restore the balance to my humanity. Assuage my wrath. Set me on a course of faith and hope. Help me forge a path to peace. And let me be a source of comfort and compassion to others.
Rabbi Craig Scheff