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Life Without a Story (Deuteronomy 4:25-40)

Ever since the Jewish calendar was fixed mathematically, the first days of Pesah and Tisha b’Av intentionally fall on the same day. (This year Pesah was on Shabbat and this year, the ninth of Av falls on Shabbat but we observe it on the 10th of Av so as not to fast on Shabbat.) We joyously celebrate on Pesah the story of the founding of the Jewish nation when God delivered our people from Egyptian bondage. I want to suggest that we mourn on Tisha b”Av not just because of the destruction of our holy Temples and the two-time loss of Jewish sovereignty, but no less tragically, the loss of our connection to our story.

If Pesah is “v’higadta l’bikha bayom hahu – and you shall tell to your children on this day”, then the leitmotif of Tisha b’Av is found in the opening words of the Torah reading for the day: “When you beget children and children of children and are long in the land, and you act ruinously and make a sculpted image of any sort and do evil in the eyes of the Lord your God to anger Him…” (Deuteronomy 4:25)

The opening words of this verse: “When you beget children and children of children” leaves me with no doubt that the Torah wants to reminded us of what happens when the connection to one’s “story” is broken and not shared from one generation to the next. The following midrash bears out this idea:

When you beget sons and sons of sons – Scripture says regarding this verse: ‘I foretell the end at the beginning’ (Isaiah 46:10) When Moshe was about to depart from the world, the Holy One Blessed be He told him, what in the future Israel would do after Yehoshua’s death. As it says: ‘The Lord said to Moshe: You are soon to lie with your father. This people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst.’ (Deuteronomy 31:16) Therefore, Moshe warned them, ‘For I know that when I am dead, you will act wickedly and turn away from the path that I enjoined upon you.’ (Ibid 29) And the people responded to him: ‘We will not do such a thing!’ Moshe replied to them: In the future you will beget sons and sons of sons who will forget the name of the Holy One Blessed be He… (Tanhuma Buber Vaethanan addendum 2)

Tisha b’Av is not a day exclusively dedicated to mourning physical loss and destruction. The Temple in Jerusalem may be gone but the spiritual Temple in each of us continues on, but without the perpetuation of our story, what makes us who we are, it, too, stands no chance and will turn to rubble. It is not easy being Jewish, being part of a minority with a different story from those who surround us – who express ourselves differently. The Torah reminds us that it was never easy being different. Still, losing one’s sense of identity and one’s story is too tragic and too sad to even mourn.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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