Like the blind man who was handed a piece of matzah, I read Kinot (Lamentations) and wonder “Who writes this sh*t?”
Starving mothers eating their babies. Formerly free women and men adjusting to lives as slaves. Physical and psychological torture. Twenty-five hundred years of extreme suffering, from Eichah to Auschwitz.
Usually, when losers write history, there’s some nobility and purpose to the suffering. A sense that “no matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.”
Tisha B’Av liturgy has none of that.
It’s not history written by the losers; it’s history written by the survivors. The national and religious zealots who rebelled against the Romans were massacred. The post-nationalists became Hellenists and Christians. The course for post-destruction Judaism was set not by those who won or lost the wars, but by those who had tried and failed to prevent them. It’s history told by the collateral damage.
The Kinot collection is not a book for settling political scores, casting blame, fanning flames of hatred or plotting vengeance.
These services have been imprinting the following thoughts and feelings on Jews for centuries:
- The problems and solutions lie not with external enemies, but with me.
- We must renew our commitment to God, whose primary concerns are that we be kind and just.
- Every exciting political upheaval is followed by thousands of less exciting days after, at least for some of us.
- We, the Jewish family, have been in this together for millennia. We must find ways to disagree without destroying ourselves and each other.
- Suffering neither ennobles us nor defines us. It also does not defeat us.
- We are an eternal nation, with an eternal relationship with God and the land of Israel. We will return and rebuild.
- Vengeance is God’s.
Perhaps the most powerful of all Jewish prayers is the “Ashrei” that follows the Kinot. We immediately follow the recitations of our suffering with declamations: Fortunate are those who dwell in Your house, they will yet praise You. Fortunate are those for whom the Eternal is their God; fortunate are those for whom things are like this.
Despite it all. Because of it all. We are Yours and with Your help we will yet complete our mission. To be good and to do good, in that order.
The Romans are long gone. We’re still here, back and better than ever. We’ve returned to our land. We’re still striving to make ourselves and the world better.
When losers write history they can transform it, and themselves. The Kinot are history written by those who will work through the pain and grow from it. It’s the story of surviving lost battles, and dusting ourselves off, learning from mistakes, and moving forward. It is an integral part of our redemptive national story.