As we stutter through the final few hours before tisha b’av, I feel like all of Israel, and all Jews everywhere, are holding their breath. I am nervous that the other shoe has not yet dropped.
There have been unprecedented levels of ahavat yisrael visible during the last few weeks. The whole country, when not in their bomb shelters, has been baking cookies, buying toiletries, ordering pizza, and doing any of a myriad other activities to support our soldiers, their families, and the residents of the south who have been displaced and traumatized by rocket fire and the fear of terror tunnel infiltrations. This followed 3 weeks of never-seen-before levels of prayer, tears, good deeds, pleading and hoping for the lives and well-being of Gil-ad, Naftali & Eyal. Many people have pointed out that our tears and prayers for our three boys were not wasted even though we later discovered that they had been killed soon after they were kidnapped. Miracles have happened again and again during Operation Tzok Eitan; the terror tunnels were discovered before they could be used for their diabolical purpose; a mysterious fog shrouded a group of soldiers during a mission, saving their lives; a missile headed for heavily populated Tel Aviv that could not be shot down suddenly and inexplicably turned aside and landed in an open area.
I see the hand of G-d in so many ways. I see it in the very beginning of this war. We now know about the miles of terror tunnels, and that Hamas had a chilling plan to use them in a coordinated attack on Rosh Hashanah that would have taken us entirely by surprise, during which they would kill or capture hundreds of men, women and children. And yet, despite knowing that this wonderful opportunity to destroy us was in their pocket, and that all they had to do was to wait, they chose to pull us into a ground invasion which we tried so hard to avoid, and through which we foiled their plot. How much this should remind us of Haman, who looked forward with glee to the seemingly inevitable destruction of every single Jew in all 127 lands of Achashverosh in just 11 months time, and yet who lost everything, everything, because he couldn’t bear to wait that long to get just one Jew out of his way?
I have heard people who have lived in Israel for decades exclaiming that the morale and level of unity that is palpable here has not been experienced since the Six-Day War in 1967. At that time, there was a general feeling that Moshiach was on his way, that we were experiencing the ischalta d’geula, the birth pangs of Moshiach. And yet here we are, 47 years later, and he still isn’t here. Now, again, I hear and see so many people pointing to the unity, the prayer, the Torah, the good deeds being done, and holding them up as a surety that Moshiach is nearly here. Surely, with new waves of anti-semitism sweeping the world, with the world media by and large swallowing falsehoods whole and refusing the sniff at the truth, Moshiach must be nearly here. I read this article, explaining in great detail why what was reported as a cruel Israeli strike on innocent civilians in a crowded market was really a Hamas-inflicted massacre, and was most chilled by this paragraph:
As I was looking for new corroboration that the market was closed, articles were changing between the moment I clicked the link and the page opened. It was like the Michael Douglas movie Disclosure, where he’s inside the virtual computer, and the files are disappearing before his eyes. The Telegraph’s cached articles have been removed, so somebody thought it was really important to conceal the fact that the market was closed.
To me, this was scary. That news can be falsified today, in the era of mass information, that our enemies really do control the media – to the extent that they change previous news articles, so that only their version of events is reported and not the truth. It certainly seems to me that we live in a time of real sheker (falsehood).
And yet – Moshiach is not here.
And this is why I am nervous. Because clearly, we have not done enough. There is so much unity, so much kindness, so much prayer and so much Torah – but it’s not enough. So much emunah that only G-d will save us, even among previously non-religious Israelis, who have seen miracles happen and recognize now that it is not ‘our valour and the strength of our hands which have wrought this’ but G-d alone.
It’s all so good! But it’s not good enough.
What more can we do? What more mehafechah, what bigger upheaval do we need to experience to bring us to the point of Moshiach’s arrival?
It is my wont to turn to Tanach for guidance. I look for pattern and correlation between our days and the days of the prophets, and take comfort from seeing that there is reason and control over what we are experiencing. I look to Yeshayah (Isaiah) and Yirmiyah (Jeremiah), (sections of whom we read on the three Shabbatot preceding Tisha B’av, called the sheloshah d’poranuta, the three weeks of rebuke) and I think, perhaps herein lies our clue. Both these prophets promote a theme of social justice. In both books, you can read rebukes of the people who fasted on the fast days, brought their offerings to the Temple, ate the correct food and respected the holiness of holy things – but who oppressed the poor, the orphans and the widows. Both prophets warned the people that G-d does not want their sacrifices or their fasts, He wants their justice. And the Jewish people of the time just couldn’t, couldn’t understand this.
We, too, are not there yet. We fast, we pray, we say tehillim, we learn Torah, we bake cookies for soldiers and buy equipment to support them. But in Austria, there is a woman who is denied access to her neglected children by a man who is still supported by the rabbis of his town. In Israel, in America, in Europe, there are children who are sexually abused by teachers, rabbis, and family members, while the Torah establishment ignores their suffering and protects their tormentors. In America, when the IRS decides who to investigate for potential tax fraud, they use ‘Torah’ as one of their flag words, since people who claim their primary income from Torah sources are more likely to be evading taxes. In countries across the world, there is fraud, there is theft, there is injustice great and small committed by Jews, by ‘frum’ Jews and by irreligious ones, and we – the representatives of Torah – ignore it, avoid it, try to pretend it is not there.
Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, Tanach educator, teaches that the Beit Hamikdash had to be destroyed because the Jewish people had come to believe that it was something akin to a magic potion. We thought that whatever we do, however badly we behave, if we fast and bring korbanot, G-d will save us. And so, eventually, G-d had to destroy it, even though we brought so many offerings and cried so hard, because we weren’t behaving in a way which followed in His Image. We were not emulating G-d; instead, we were creating a chillul Hashem, and the ‘frummer’ we were while ignoring social justice, the bigger the desecration of G-d’s Name.
Perhaps we, too, haven’t yet learned the lesson of the destruction of the Temple. We have tried crying, and fasting, and praying, and learning, and even yes, doing good deeds. But more people have come out to protest the injustice of the media’s treatment of Israel than came out to protest the injustice of child abuse, or mothers deprived of their children, or fraud. I’m scared, this tisha b’av, because we still haven’t learned this lesson. I believe that, just like in 1967, we stand beneath a window of opportunity, but that that window is closing.
What more suffering do we need to experience to bring us to the place we need to be? I don’t want to have to find out.