Tonight and tomorrow, Jews around the world commemorate the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av, the day recognized as the day in which both Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. It is without question the saddest day on the calendar and has taken on the status of the day to acknowledge all Jewish suffering throughout the ages. No more notable than the suffering of the Holocaust which resulted in the murder of 6 millions Jews.
As this sacred day began, we read from the book known as Eichah. I caution anyone who chooses to read it to be prepared, as this book is sad on levels we don’t often reach. It speaks of death and destruction, the famine and sorrow that follows it, and the physical and emotional devastation that was what the life of the Jewish people had become following the Temple’s destruction. It is said that the second Temple was destroyed because of what is known as Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. To put it in other terms, one Jew turning on another. As I read the English translation of Eicha I found it striking that this particularly book almost reads like a scolding of God for letting this happen, or even worse causing this to happen. Not unlike the feeling of some Jews who ask, if there is a God how could he allow 6 million Jews to be murdered, what we read on Tisha B’Av clearly proclaims an anger and disappointment towards an understood to be all powerful being that did not use that power to prevent Jewish suffering.
The change in attitude that exists in generations to follow, coupled with the analysis and understanding of the time, has lead the Jewish people to a paradigm shift in which it went from blaming God to accepting blame for our own actions that brought this misery upon us. The sadness is still accepted and understood, and although a challenge so many generations later, still recognized and felt by so many.
But it is not enough to feel it. It must also be a motivation for us not to be guilty of that same transgression, and although the purpose of this piece is not to repeat what we have heard so often, I will digress momentarily to address that issue by simply saying the following.
God’s commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself does not come with special clauses. It is not presented with exceptions. Yes you must defend yourself against your enemy, but that does not imply that your enemy is someone with a different opinion than the one that you have, even if you find that opinion to be alarmingly ignorant or even dangerous. Love thy neighbor as thyself is not followed by the words, unless it is really difficult. On the contrary. It is written to remind you to do so even when it is most difficult. So next time you are presented with the challenge of hating the words of a brother or sister, simply remember to attack the message, not the messenger. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel once wrote that if the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were scattered because of baseless hatred, the Jewish people will come together and rebuild the Temple because of baseless love.
The real motivation for me to write this piece however is not to push the concept of love and understanding towards our neighbor, as nice as that message may be, but to address our greatest responsibility on Tisha B’Av, which is to keep the flame of memorial burning. Not just for the destruction of the Jewish Temple, but for all death and persecution suffered by the Jewish people. That is why I lit a Yahrtzeit candle as Tisha B’Av began. Because if my memory serves me well, and I am sure that my siblings will be able to tell me if it does not, my parents always lit a candle in memory of their losses and all the losses during the time of the Holocaust. With my parents now no longer walking this earth, the next generation has the responsibility of taking it on themselves, which is why I did my part on this Tisha B’Av, and intend to do so as long as I am able.
To forget the suffering of our ancestors is to allow their suffering to be for nothing. If we identify as being part of something, we have a responsibility to not let that happen.