Replacing Hatred with Compassion: A Tisha B’Av Message

Hashiveynu Adonai elecha v’nashuva. Chadesh yameinu k’kedem.

Ruturn us, Adonai and we will return. Renew our days as of old.

These words come from the final verses of the book of Lamentations, the book we read this weekend on Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, the deeply sad day in the Jewish calendar when we remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and then again by the Romans in the year 70 – a devastation that marked the beginning of the Jewish Exile and changed us forever. Typically, we sit on the floor and chant Lamentations, a haunting trope befitting the utter desolation, cruelty and brokenness recounted in this book. We fast (the only complete fast day besides Yom Kippur), we remember Jerusalem, and hopefully, too, we are mindful of the present-day destructions, sufferings and violence in our world, whether from war or terrorism or poverty – whether in Jerusalem or Nice, Ferguson or Flint, Aleppo or Brussels, Trenton or East New York.

Yet, the Shabbat that precedes Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision, and the conclusion of this weekend marks the beginning of the “Seven Weeks of Comfort”, the seven weeks preceding Rosh Hashanah as we begin the practice of teshuvah, to turn and return to our best selves. It takes seven weeks, Rabbi Alan Lew of blessed memory teaches, like the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot when we move from slavery in Egypt to receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, for any great spiritual shift to take place. The Ancient Rabbis taught that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, or “baseless hatred”. And so we need Tisha B’Av, to replace hatred with love and compassion, and to acknowledge the brokenness and pain, in order to begin our journey of healing and wholeness.

On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the “birthday of the world” and it is fitting to note the people and places and social issues that are in need of our attention. On Yom Kippur, we turn inward, seeking to heal the broken places in our own spirits. But it all begins here, this weekend, with Tisha B’Av. I encourage you to take down the Tanach/Jewish Bible (or any Bible) from your bookshelf and take a look at the verses of Lamentations. Or, attempt a fast, bring food to a local food pantry, or just listen to different versions of the song “By the Waters of Babylon”.

In the words of Rabbi Mark Soloway, “May we rebuild the broken Temple within our own hearts and live to see days of sadness transformed into days of joy.”

B’Shalom uvracha/With Peace and Blessings,

Rabbi Susan

Published in Rabbi Susan's Blog on August 11, 2016