Entering Av: a “d’var Torah” about this moment on our holy calendar

This isn’t so much a “d’var Torah” as a “d’var calendar” — the text I’m exploring this morning is the unfolding of our calendrical year.

Last Friday, just before Shabbat, we entered into the lunar month of Av. Av contains the low point on our communal calendar: Tisha b’Av. Tisha b’Av is the day when we remember the destruction of the first Temple by Babylon in 586 BCE, the destruction of the second Temple by Rome in 70 CE, and countless other tragedies that have happened at this season in other years, from the beginning of the first Crusade, to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto and the mass extermination that followed.

Tisha b’Av is a day for confronting brokenness. The brokenness of the world. The brokenness of our hearts. And yet tradition teaches that on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av, moshiach will be born. The beginnings of our redemption arise from this very darkest of places. It’s a little bit like the Greek myth of Pandora who opened the box containing war and destruction and famine and all manner of awful things — and at the bottom of the box, found hope. A tiny spark of light to counter the darkness.

It’s the height of our beautiful Berkshire summer. Why would we choose, as we move into Av, to delve into grief? Because if we don’t let ourselves feel what hurts, we can’t move beyond it. If we don’t let ourselves acknowledge what’s broken, we can’t mend. If we don’t let ourselves acknowledge what feels damaged, we can’t begin to repair it. Brokenness is part of the human condition, and the only way to transcend it is to let ourselves feel it fully. Feeling what hurts is the first step toward healing the hurt we feel.

According to the Mishna, on Tisha b’Av we mourn not only that long list of historical calamities, but also a psychospiritual one: the time when the scouts went into the Promised Land, and became afraid of what they saw, and returned to the children of Israel and said “we can’t go there, those people are giants, we must have looked to them like grasshoppers.” Av is a time for remembering how we diminish ourselves when we let go of faith for a better future and let our fear rule us instead.

Why would we want to look at the times when we’ve been afraid? Why would we want to examine our own complicity in the cycles of brokenness that are a part of every human life — how we keep bringing ourselves, over and over, back to the same issues, the same fears, the same hurts? Because in that examining, we strengthen our power to make different choices. We don’t have to repeat the mistake the scouts made. We don’t have to repeat our own mistakes. We can make teshuvah — we can turn.

Rabbi Alan Lew writes,

Tisha b’Av is the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they  manifest themselves in our own lives — in our alienation and estrangement from God, in our alienation from ourselves and from others.

This new lunar month invites us to recognize that our constructs — the narratives we’ve inherited or built to tell us who we are — are just that: constructed. And like everything else in this world of entropy, they fall apart. When our constructs are shattered, we feel shattered, too. But Tisha b’Av comes to teach us that even when the walls crumble, even when the Temple is destroyed, even when our constructs shatter and we feel adrift, something more lasting than all of these persists in us.

You can call that something “God.” You can call that something “Love.” You can call that something “Transformation.”

Av is our month of greatest sorrow — and in that greatest sorrow, we find an opening to joy. In facing what’s falling down, we find a way for our spirits to rise up. In facing our fear and our complicity in succumbing to that fear, we find an opening into a future of promise. In facing our feelings of helplessness, we find strength. In facing the darkness, we find light. Kein yehi ratzon.

 

These are the remarks that Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI yesterday morning (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

You might also find useful this set of resources for Tisha b’Av 5776 on Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

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