On the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av I had a dream. I dreamt that I was hiking through a destroyed, apocalyptic-looking tundra, reminiscent of Planet Earth in the movie “Wall-E”, when I turned around to see my upstairs neighbour behind me. She looked pale and exhausted, stumbling awkwardly as she trudged through the unforgiving landscape, clutching a bundle closely to her chest. As I peered closer, I realized that she was holding a newborn baby boy. I was shocked — I see her every single day! How did I not realize that she had had a baby, never mind that she was pregnant for the past nine months?!
“Did he already have a bris?” I asked, turning to the eldest daughter in the family. She looked up at me quizzically. “Of course,” she answered, and I realized that he must be a few weeks old already. “What’s his name?” I continued. “David,” she said, staring straight into my eyes, and then she disappeared. I ran to catch up with my husband and whispered excitedly in his year, “Can you believe they had a baby?! I didn’t even realize she was pregnant!” I wore a strange thrilled smile, the kind you have when you finally share a really juicy piece of gossip you’ve been holding on to, but feel terribly guilty while doing so.
I woke up on the 9th of Av, a day of fasting and mourning in remembrance of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as a whole slew of other tragedies throughout Jewish history. This year, however, it fell on a Shabbat, so the mourning rituals were pushed off until the next day. I realized immediately that the baby in my dream represented the “Messiah” (who/whatever that means). Little baby David, the son of my upstairs neighbour, Yishai, was automatically linked to the Biblical King David, son of Yishai, from whose lineage the Sages say the Messiah will ultimately come.
I sat outside and drank my ice coffee, listening to my husband read a story to our six month old daughter. He told her the well-known tale of two brothers — one single, the other married with a family — who share a field. The brothers decide to split the crop equally, yet in the middle of the night, each thinks of the challenges and suffering of the other and decides that his brother deserves more than him. As they are sneaking through the field to secretly give each other more sheaves, they meet in the middle, realize what is going on, and embrace. It is in this spot — one of love, kindness and generosity — that the holy Temple would be built. Despite the fact that my husband read the story in an Indian-Yiddish-Hebrew accent, by the time he was finished I had tears rolling down my cheeks. “You’ve never heard this story before?” He asked, with a puzzled look on his face. “Of course I have,” I replied, wiping my tears away and laughing at myself, “But it’s the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard. It’s the only one that matters.”
When I gave birth six months ago, I was blown away by the kindness and generosity of my community. For the first few weeks of my daughter’s life, every day people came to my home delivering congratulations, gifts and home cooked meals. Some of these angels were friends, others were acquaintances, and many were complete strangers who I have never seen before or since. After realizing what an enormous help it was and how loved it made me feel, I signed up to the community list to receive notifications about births and bed rests so that I could pay the kindness forward. Since then, I’ve received an email almost every day, and not once have I filled my name into the Google Doc to bring some friend, acquaintance or complete stranger a lasagna. (Fine, I did once. For a friend.)
The “Messiah”, I realized, may already be here, but until I can transcend the seemingly all-encompassing reality of my own tiny existence to genuinely feel the pain and joy of my neighbours, I simply do not have the eyes to see “him”. As long as I still see us all as separate, we will continue to be so. I challenge myself and all of us to open our hearts to one another deeply enough to inspire action – to feel each other’s pain sincerely enough to try and alleviate suffering, and to feel each other’s joy fully enough to join in each other’s celebrations with all our hearts.
Here’s to hoping that next year we will all drink ice coffees together on the 9th of Av, even if it falls on a Wednesday.