An Inheritance of Hope
An Inheritance of Hope
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
On Saturday night, the Jewish observance of Tisha B’Av will begin. Literally the 9th of Av, the date recalls days of destructions in Jewish history, beginning with the ruin of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. As history records it, subsequent times of destruction also happened on this day, from the end of the Second Temple by the Romans (70), and the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492). In Reform Judaism, Tisha B’Av has been observed less than in other Jewish communities; not because we shouldn’t remember and learn from these historical moments, but, Reform Judaism, born out of the age of the Enlightenment and into an age of reason, rationality, and science, laid the groundwork for Jews to be less isolated and more acculturated where they lived. Furthermore, Reform Jews ceased praying for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, which would have restarted the sacrificial cult and the role of the high priests.
In its place, some Reform communities like ours have focused our need for memorializing our people’s suffering on Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition, though our people prayed for a return to the Land of Israel since it was exiled some 2000 years ago, we have returned to the Land and made it a sovereign Jewish state. The cycle of destruction, redemption, and salvation have been observed in our day, and while peace is still elusive, Jewish life in Israel is a dream fulfilled and a reality worth honoring and sustaining.
Now what do we do with Tisha B’Av? I recommend that rather than focus on another day of mourning in the middle of August in Houston, that we focus on the biblical readings Judaism assigns for the Sabbath before and after Tisha B’Av. Before Tish B’Av, we’re assigned to read Isaiah 1:1-27, and after Tisha B’Av, we’re assigned to read Isaiah 40:1-26. In these verses we read about the dire situation of the Israelites who, by biblical assessment, fail to uphold God’s sanctity and therefore suffer the consequences; and, about the hopefulness that still awaits them if they abide by God’s commandments and enjoy God’s promise to their ancestors and to them.
From Isaiah 1:1ff:
“Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings away from My sight.
Cease to do evil; Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.
“Come, let us reach an understanding,-e
—says the LORD.
Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece.”
From Isaiah 40:1ff
Comfort, oh comfort My people,
Says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
And declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is expiated;
For she has received at the hand of the LORD
Double for all her sins.
At no time in Jewish history did the Israelites or their progeny feel only despair. Individual Jews went astray, but the Jewish people endured. Today, some might claim that our world is beyond repair or without hope, but they would be wrong. History is a great teacher and Hebrew prophets, like Isaiah, still urge us to know that whatever the source of our trouble, the future is filled with opportunity and greater peace. It won’t come through prayer, alone; rather, it will come through faithfulness to our unique inheritance of Torah wisdom and deeds.
On this Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, take time to identify the source of struggle in your life and resolve to attend to it with fresh insight and renewed hope. The Israelites never stopped hoping; the Jewish people never stop hoping, and neither should we. Let’s use heart and mind and able hands to make a difference for tomorrow.