Wednesday, August 10, 2005

a pre-blog Tisha B'Av post

I found this email that I wrote 8 years ago today, in preparation for Tisha B'Av.

I think it's still pretty relevant.

Subject: a few thoughts before tisha b'av
Date: Monday, August 11, 1997 12:04 AM

This Tisha B'Av is interesting for us, as it is the first one since our aliya.

While we were on shlichut in the States, Tisha B'Av gave me the opportunity to feel a certain degree of justifiable anger -- I could reprove the Jewish community for staying in the galut despite the existence of the State of Israel, and to berate their "b'chia shel chinam" that seemed so obvious on Tisha B'Av. As my grandmother always says: "It's better to be mad than sad" and that anger helped me get by the depressing fact of being in America on Tisha B'Av.

But now I am in Israel. This is not my first Tisha B'Av here, but my first after shlichut. And I'm not sure what to feel. Today there was an article in the Hebrew press about how one of the rabbis of the Israeli Reform movement said we should not fast a complete fast day on Tisha B'Av.

He said, "Even the Orthodox open their windows and see Yerushalayim is being built..."

Naturally, due to the heavy tension between the Orthodox and Reform in Israel now, his position was strongly attacked. But is there a kernel of truth to it? Just as the exiles to Bavel could not "sing a song of Tzion on a foreign land", can we cry our cries of galut in an era of obvious redemption? Perhaps we too are crying "b'chia shel chinam"?

There is certainly a line of thought that emphasizes truth in prayer, particularly in relation to redemption and Eretz Yisrael. The Kuzari says that the prayers that "our eyes see the return to Tzion" of one who stays in chutz l'aretz, are like the "chirping of birds" and no more.

And Rav Yaakov Emden says that the direction we pray has no meaning if we have the ability to make aliya and choose not to go.

And Kibbutz HaDati, along with others, has changed the text of "Nachem" to fit the reality that we live in now. (An issue of Amudim, the Kibbutz HaDati journal, discussed the rabbinical approval for such a change, and the noted scholar Ephraim Urbach wrote a new version). I can strongly agree with a change in the prayer. It is not fitting to continue to ask God for something
which he has already granted us -- that was the repeating sin of the Dor HaMidbar.

And as far as the other fasts, I can see room to compromise, or even to make drastic changes. This is based on the gemara of Rosh HaShana 18b, where in regard to the fasts it is written
that in times of "shalom" we don't fast; in times of "gezerat malchut" we do fast; and when there is not "shalom" and not "gezerat malchut", those who choose fast, and those who choose not to, don't. Rashi explains "shalom" as "when idol worshipers do not have sovereignty over Israel". According to that view, there would be reason not to fast today -- or at least to leave it up to individual choice. But the gemara goes on to make a distinction between the "minor" fasts and Tisha B'Av - for on Tisha B'Av our "troubles were multiplied."

I think a distinction can be made between Tisha B'Av and the other fasts on the basis of when they first came to be. While the main object of the fasts on the 17th of Tammuz, 10th of Tevet and Tzom Gedaliah are the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty, the roots of Tisha B'Av are much deeper. The Gemara in Sota explains how when Bnei Yisrael reacted negatively to the report of the spies, with "b'chia shel chinam", that date was set for crying forever. And the Rambam in the beginning of Hilchot Taanit explains that we continue to fast as long as the original sin has not been rectified.

And indeed the sin of "b'chiya shel chinam" still exists, most evidently by the refusal of Western Orthodoxy to come to Israel. And we see the results -- our current redemption, while miraculous, is not complete. And although the miracles continue on a daily basis, in the realms of kibbutz galuyot, an independent Jewish state, opportunity to practice Judaism freely and expansion of Torah study and shmirat mitzvot, we can have a feeling that this might not be a permanent redemption, and it could slip from our hands. And perhaps this is because of the Jews who won't come to Israel, as Resh Lakish says in Yoma 9b, that the Second Temple would not have been destroyed if the Jews had come up in the time of Ezra.

But why am I fasting? I'm here -- I've done my part. Yerushalayim is being built at a fantastic pace. It is under Jewish sovereignty. Even Har HaBayit is in the end, under the rule of the State of Israel, even if we choose not to exercise our rights there. Perhaps the Reform rabbi was right -- the Jews of Israel need not mourn as they once did.

But here is the point many of us are missing. We can not abandon a portion of Am Yisrael. And this is not the standard plea for "achdut ha'am". This is particularly relevant in times of churban and geula. I don't think we all have to agree. And I agree with what R' Amital said after the Rabin assassination -- that the idea of "ahavat chinam" is not appropriate, for every Jew deserves our love, even the non-religious for the deeds they do, and it is not "baseless". But when it comes to churban and galut, we are all on one boat. And even a little hole can sink it. Therefore, as long as part of the nation is continuing to remain in the sins of the past that led to our exile, our redemption is not guaranteed. And we must continue to mourn.

Now one could say --- who cares! Let the Jews of Galut wither in their own exile, and fall prey to the vulture of assimilation. As Koresh said: "Any one of you of all His people, the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up". And one could say the same thing to other groups in Judaism we have differences with -- let them be the Reform movement in America and lately in Israel, the charedim who don't recognize the State God has given us, and let alone the various views on the left to right political spectrum in Israel. We can say like Avraham said to Lot: "Please separate from me: if you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go

This is the view of separation, in essence the view of despair. How can we live together? Our views will never match -- you will continue to sin in my eyes (and I in yours). But as we know, despair is the best friend of the yetzer hara. Moshe Rabbeinu did not fall in the trap of despair. When God offered him the opportunity to start a new nation from him, he declined. He even said that his name should be erased from the Torah, before a new nation be started from him. And one can assume that Moshe was frustrated with the people, and could have enjoyed a nation of like-minded people. But our lot is wrapped up together. How many camps within Am Yisrael today would make the same refusal that Moshe made? Wouldn't we all prefer to have a nation of people with the same ideology, the same mindset?

But only if we make the same commitment as Moshe did can we truly lead the nation. Moshe was a shepherd, and knew not to abandon even one of his flock. With that kind of leadership, and with that kind of commitment, can we truly arrive at a day when we will not need to fast on Tisha B'Av. Until then, our fate is tied up together.