Sitting in the hospital at the bedside of a child on Shabbat Chazon reading Torah and preparing for Tisha b’Av feels strikingly appropriate. And although typing does not, it allows words to flow to ease the pain, and that feels “Shabbesdik” (in the spirit of Shabbat).
This Shabbat we are reading D’varim – the first parsha/Torah portion of the final book of Torah, later given the Latin name Deuteronomy, “second Torah,” because it summarizes the first four books of Torah in a series of speeches by Moses. This year, Shabbat and Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) kiss as stars bring on the evening, heralding the beginning of a fast day commemorating enormous destruction and devastation in the history of the Jewish people.
The 12th sentence of Parsha Devarim and Megillat Eicha (also called the Book of Lamentations because of the nature of its five elegies) both begin with the word איכה (eicha), “How?” This is not the kind of “How?” we ask when we are gathering information to accomplish a task; rather, the “How?” that we wail (externally or internally) when the weight of sadness and despair seem insurmountable … when we feel powerless in the face of great destruction, ugliness, illness, devastation. This “How?” is a total mind-body-soul cry … visceral and deep.Judaism, as well as other wisdom traditions, is designed to help us recover from even this level of dark despair. In the case of Megillat Eicha, the lament is for the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea at the hands of the Babylonians. Our sages tell us that Jeremiah, the author of the elegies, was tender and sensitive, though despised and scorned and sentenced to jail for his prophetic words. He was inspired to warn of impending doom – a society headed for destruction – brought about by corrupt and immoral behavior, and was never self-righteous in his delivery of this unheeded message. In the case of Moses, he is recalling his sense of great heaviness at the responsibility of guiding a generation of whiny Israelites through the wilderness. In Moshe’s case, help comes from Divine inspiration and strength and from distributing responsibility. Jeremiah’s case is far more tragic, but his faith remains comfort and sustenance.
In dark times, how do we persist? Where do we turn for comfort? How do we find the strength to renew ourselves and rebuild our lives? Even the act of identifying these sources assists us in finding the light and moving toward it.
As we journey, in Jewish time, through the darkness of Tisha b’Av and continue through this month to the new moon of Elul, the last month of the year 5775, our Jewish values guide us to begin the process of introspection and self-reflection. As we complete the cycle of our annual journey that brings us, once again, to the head of the year – Rosh HaShanah, may we find comfort and strength, light and love in the process. May the heaviness of despair be lightened by the inner tools and outer relationships that soothe us. And may we, together, rejoice in the value of tradition and the renewal of meaning that guide and gird our Little Minyan Kehilla.