The day that marks Jewish suffering over millennia is Tisha BeAv, the 9th day of the month of Av. It commemorates the destruction of both temples in historic Jerusalem, as well as memorializes numerous other atrocious attacks and pogroms that decimated Jews throughout the exile.
This sad day instills a deep sense of empathy among Jews and unites us around our collective suffering as a people, which inevitably evokes the question – Why us?!
Why would God, who called us ‘my-people’ & ‘my-children’, allow this to happen to his chosen people, time and again, until this very day?
Even as we celebrate our independence through our statehood as a proud nation, with Israel becoming a prosperous model for the entire world, in what many consider to be the precursor to the coming of our Messiah, Jews are still plagued by hatred and Anti-Semitism in its many forms.
And if God controls the world – then the question is even greater: why direct all these troubles at us?
What have we done that is so egregious that warrants such punishment? Two-thousand years of persecution and we are still the most hated people – if we are to be judged by the United Nations that has singled out Israel to be the evilest country on the planet…
If being the chosen people makes us a target, shouldn’t God be our protector?
Otherwise – perhaps let another people be chosen.
This is a question that arises in all forms – from crying out in pain and suffering – when people attack Jews all over the world, to screaming it in bewilderment and challenging God outright in his neglecting his job as our King, our Protector and our Almighty Father.
Israel was born through the horrors of the holocaust, it emerged in having to fight for its acceptance and it still fights to this day for its existence, often with one hand tied behind, through more scrutiny than any other people ever. As David Grossman writes so eloquently:
When we allow ourselves to seriously contemplate the hope that we will have peace, this inherently contains the possibility that we will have a future. A future as a people, a future as a state. …For most Israelis the possibility of a future cannot be taken for granted. … It seems that a significant element of the Jewish People’s self-definition is the sense of impending annihilation, of calamity hovering over its head.
Or as Sherri Mandel writes:
Survivors don’t overcome. They (victims) become Somebody else.
It is one thing to suffer atrocities, which many people have suffered throughout history, but this is what Jews have to live with – day in and day out, throughout our long and painful past.
Yet the thing that offends me the most, throughout this day, is when people take the position in a self-righteous and preachy way – that we Jews must have brought it all upon ourselves. The Prophet Isaiah writes in the Haftarah section, recited yesterday on the eve of this ominous day, that the nation of Israel has brought about its own destruction. So how can we celebrate our Bible and yet refuse to hear it when people say it today? What is the difference between Isaiah saying it and other, so-called religious leaders, who make similar claims today?
Well, Yeshayahu was a prophet and he was warning us, just like Jeremiah and other prophets have warned of upcoming events, before they transpire.
He gave the people an insight into their ongoing destructive behavior and suggested a poetic link between their behavior and its consequences. Beyond it being a prophecy, it can be read also as an analogy, a metaphor, or a symbol to allegorize the people’s betrayal of their mission, thus he pointed to the coming punishment – as a direct consequence IN ITS TIME.
But prophecy ended a long time ago and it doesn’t grant anyone the right to blame a people, who are dispersed in exile against their will, for being singled out continuously as a pariah among the nations of the world.
Moreover, the very same people who state that we cannot understand G-d’s reasons for what he or she does, seem to speak in God’s name when they blame us for being responsible for being hated, and they often know “why bad things happen to good people.”
I wonder – If the second temple was destroyed due to ‘Sinat Chinam’ – baseless hate, then isn’t this fanatic ‘blame game’ going to bring out the same zealotry and hatred today?
No doubt, Tisha Be-Av is a good day to question our behavior – but linking our national tragedies to our behavior is akin to blaming the Jews for the holocaust. Saying that “the holocaust happened because of …” is horrific and unforgivable.
It reminds me of a recorded lesson, a Shiur from a reputable Yeshiva in Jerusalem which I listened to recently. It started with the rabbi’s warning his students that their teacher’s illness was directly related to the student’s wrong doing. He thus asked each and every student to look deep into their conduct to find out why the rabbi had befallen sick!
I can understand people who say: “I cannot tell God’s reasoning.” I don’t like it and I don’t find it satisfactory but I can respect people who suggest that in granting people free-will, God opened the door for evil – which cannot be controlled without eliminating such independence. But I can tell you that if someone came to tell my brother and me, who were small children in then anti-Semitic Romania, that the absence of medical treatment that resulted in our mother’s premature death at the age of 33, or that our father’s being thrown into jail for asking to leave to Israel, was brought on by our behavior – I am not sure that I’d want to belong to such a people.
Thus I suggest that we stop this overly righteous game of blame and resort to being empathic and sensitive rather than speak for God and His reasoning.
After-all, doesn’t the Babylonian Talmud in Baba Batra suggest that Prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children?