In the last days of the three weeks leading up to the most grievous day in the Jewish year, Tisha B’Av, the notion of place weighs heavy.
Especially in Israel, where the fall of the temple at the hands first of the Babylonians, and again by the Romans, led to the expulsion not once but twice of its people. The dislocation of the ancient Israelites was cause for deepest despair, for as the people were led in chains from the burning city, their homes destroyed, so too was the dwelling place of their God displaced.
It is said that the exile was a result of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, the invidious infighting among its people, vying for power and God’s favor. And it has been said, that the expulsion came not from God’s anger at their peevishness, but from His overwhelming despair at their fractiousness and inability to abide one another.
So fast forward today, when the Temple Mount, where the Holy of Holies was said to reside has again become a flash point, as Israelis and their often unwanted, and unwelcome, fellow inhabitants of the land clashed yet again over its control and their sovereignty.
The most recent violence, the killing of two Israeli police officers outside the Al Aqsa Mosque on the temple mount, and the heinous killing of yet another innocent Jewish family as retaliation, led to Israel’s rightful increase of security measures at the Muslim holy place.
As repugnant as the installation of metal detectors at the entry to the mosque, and as understandable the outrage of the Muslims who pray there, so too the hopefulness of Israel’s later decision to replace the detectors with advanced security technology that is less obtrusive, respecting the sacredness of the place and its people, and quelling the protest.
But even as calm prevailed in God’s place yet again, as the city readied for the muezzin’s call to Muslim prayer on Friday afternoon and the advent of the peace of the Jewish Sabbath that evening, there is troubling talk on the street in Arab East Jerusalem of winning and losing, of Israel’s retreat a win for the Palestinians.
Such talk pitting one against the other, continues to pervade Israel, and here at home, where the latest outrage of our president again invokes hate of the most virulent kind, inveighing against transgender members of the military to stoke fear of those who are different while pandering to his base of support on the religious right. No less an instance of the baseless hatred that undid the ancient Israelites nor an instance of such baseless hatred that threatens to undo the very basis of our nation today, and, I would suggest, God’s hopes for us all.
As we ready to mourn the devastation of Jerusalem, the fires that lit the night sky as the Babylonians scaled its walls, we do well to consider our place in this world, and protect it from those who seek to enflame intolerance and allay the divine possibility for goodness and compassion and justice.
Our place, your place, God’s place, it is our precious legacy to preserve His vision and His hope for humankind.