Denes Ban
Israeli tech entrepreneur-turned-investor on the weekly parshah

The Tisha B’Av Festival???

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Working with many clients and companies, one can often hear “No”, be rejected, and face failure. No one works in a bubble and it is easy to blame these rejections on all kinds of other things: the market dips, decision makers or regulations change, there are lacks of internal backups or inconsistencies in the team, etc. When working in a corporate culture or on any team for that matter, it is very easy to push away the responsibility for neglect, misjudgment or laziness onto someone or something else. In my many years working with clients, companies, and teams, I have seen a trend that continues to humble me each time I witness it: When things go wrong, the people who are able to take the responsibility into their own hands, although it may or may not fully be theirs and although it initially Stings (with a capital S), have the most successful recovery after the rejection or loss.

Tisha B’Av begins on Saturday evening and, were you to just base this day on what we do and recite, it seems like Tisha B’Av is just a more anciently-minded Holocaust Memorial Day. In fact, when the State of Israel was deciding on which day Holocaust Memorial should be in the calendar, there was a strong opinion that it should be added into Tisha B’Av since on this day we commemorate many of the tragedies and destructions we have faced as a Jewish people since the beginning of our history. Although Israel in the end decided on a separate date, reading Eicha (Lamentations) and Kinot (elegies of the tragedies of the Jewish people) on Tisha B’Av certainly has the effect of something very depressing and memorial-like.

And yet, even if we practiced this day perfectly: refraining from the right things and connecting to the pain of our past, we can miss out on the actual point of this day completely.

In the Talmud, our sages left us a clue. When it comes to their comments about Tisha B’Av, of all things, they choose to tell a story (here is a summary):

There was a man who threw an elaborate party and wanted to invite his good friend Kamtza. His servant, however, accidentally invited his enemy, Bar Kamtza. When the host realized the mistake he demanded, in front of all his guests, that Bar Kamtza leave the party. Embarrassed, Bar Kamtza made a series of offers begging to stay –ultimately, offering to pay for the entire party. The host wouldn’t hear of it and cold heartedly threw Bar Kamtza out of the party. Bar Kamtza was so offended, not only by the host, but also by the silence of the guests – some of whom were the great rabbis, the leaders of the Jewish nation – that he spread false rumors about the Jewish people to the Roman Emperor. One thing led to another and the result was, ultimately, the destruction of the Second Temple as The Talmud says “Yerushalayim was destroyed due to [the incident of] Kamtza and Bar Kamtza.” (Gemorah – Gittin 55b-56a)

Considering this is supposed to be how the Sages choose to teach us about the saddest day in our year, this story throws a real curve-ball message: The Jewish people’s downfall has and always will be ourselves. We are our own downfall. Our only way to true redemption is through bravery in the face of injustice, eradicating the hate in our own hearts and showing baseless love to one another.

Now, whether you believe this message fully or not, if you consider that this is the directive given to one of the most hated people in the history of the world, this attitude on our suffering is pretty revolutionary and possibly one of the keys to our survival.

We have every and I mean every reason to feel victimized. The Babylonians destroyed us, then the Romans massacred us, the Spanish inquisition crushed us, the Russian Pogroms butchered us, and on and on. No matter where we are or what we do, we have experienced genocide and carnage regularly throughout our history, more than any nation in history. Gevalt!

And yet, remarkably, our sages teach us not to wallow in our portion or to blame our perpetrators but rather to take direct responsibility and use our suffering as a means of becoming better. Now that is pretty revolutionary.

The way of the natural world is kill or be killed. When someone wrongs you, wrong them or at least blame them for your decrepit state. When suffering and evil happen there are many choices for how to handle and react. Some turn affliction into more evil and perpetuate it onto others, some take suffering and use it as a reason to check out of harsh reality, others use it as the very reason and fuel to try and make the world a better place. Our sages taught the later. Life has pain and injustice, but we can choose how we react. We can choose to turn tragedy into goodness – into a lesson that aims us to reach higher and be better.

Tisha B’Av is not a day spent blaming the Romans, the Babylonians, the Nazis, the terrorists, etc. We remember them, we remember their crimes, and we remember their victims, but we are taught that the source of their evil was our own sins, our own inabilities and mistakes. This is part of the reflection meant to happen on this day: how can I do better and have less hatred and anger in my own heart? How can I take more responsibility and be a better citizen, community member, friend, parent, or child? Where am I failing and how can I improve – because, the security and future of the Jewish people depends on it!

The ultimate irony of Tisha B’Av is that it is even referred to as a “Mo’ed” (a Festival). A Festival is a day of triumph, not sadness and mourning, so, this seems like the farthest thing from Tisha B’Av. Yet, the true message of the holiday is one of the biggest things to celebrate:

The triumph of the Jewish People has been our approach to suffering and rejection:

  1. To search inside instead of blaming others and
  2. Our ability to turn our tragedies into lessons on how to be better.

This is our legacy, and this is also our potential, waiting to be fully finished. 

About the Author
Denes Ban is the Managing Partner of OurCrowd, Israel’s leading venture capital fund. A serial entrepreneur turned serial investor, he founded and sold an HR company and co-founded PocketGuide, one of the world’s leading travel apps. Denes has lectured at Harvard, Kellogg, and INSEAD and trained thousands of CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world. After growing up without knowing he was Jewish, Denes found his way to a Yeshiva in Jerusalem and learned Torah for two consecutive years before returning to the business world. Now he uses his experiences representing Israel in Asia to share examples of what it can mean to be a Jew in the 21st c and writes a weekly blog that has spread to countless subscribers, combining the world of business, technology, philosophy, and psychology with his insights into Judaism and Zionism.
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