Our shul was full this past Monday night as the community joined together to commemorate Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of Av. The collective mourning commemorates a tragedy of a past millennium, one that fades away immediately after the break-fast only to resurrect itself again next year. The fasting and prayers are meant to imbue our hearts with a greater comprehension and appreciation for the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem. Yet, as much as we try, it is almost impossible to recreate a life that is so vastly alien to our modern world. The concept of daily animal sacrifices is an example of a past ritual that is challenging for our generation to conceptualize. Although we mourn, we compartmentalize our thoughts and only allow a vague comprehension to enter our minds, protecting ourselves from those thoughts that are too challenging or upsetting. Our focus is limited to bricks and mortar; we conceptualize only the destruction of the edifices. The Rabbis of yesteryear realized that future generations would be incapable of mourning the depth of tragedy that befell their ancestors. Our ancestors were forcibly removed from their physical dwelling and caused to endure refugee status in an exiled land. Can our mind fathom the tens of thousands who were brutally murdered by the invading forces? Can we imagine the anguish of parents watching their children starving due the siege of Jerusalem?
Although the scenery changes and we are now in the 21st century, the truth is that most of us get through our day using a similar system of compartmentalization. That is how we cope with issues that are too difficult to address or understand. Although some brazenly display a callous attitude and portray an outward ambivalence to the decimation of Gaza and the deaths of innocent children, I doubt that even the most outspoken are truly heartless and without emotion. I am dismissing the über-fringe radical elements; our collective tragic history sadly attests to those individuals who lack any and all human sensitivities. Yet most of us are capable of deep feeling and we do not dismiss reality, but our brains separate issues into files in order to buffer ourselves from fully comprehending and/or feeling the horrors and tragedies we hear and read about.
This past Shabbat I spoke on a verse found in this week’s portion, the second sentence in the holy prayer of ‘Shema’. The Torah states: And you should love your god with all your heart, soul and resources. How do you love god with all your heart? What does it even mean? Sadly we all know too well the depth and demands of giving. We collectively mourn the sixty four soldiers who gave their souls, acknowledging that the souls of their parents, siblings and friends have been lost as well. Can we ever be truly empathic? Can the commandment of giving your heart ever equal the finality and despair of giving your soul? Perhaps the challenge of giving all our heart is easier that giving all our soul, but the challenge demands first and foremost that we have a heart.
I’m not apportioning guilt. I unequivocally see the moral clarity in what Israel had to do and fully recognize that the guilt lies solely in the hands of Hamas who chooses to glorify death as martyrdom. The prospect for peace would be much brighter if those that glorify martyrdom would choose to practice what they preach. Yet even the guiltless have to feel sadness. There is no doubt that each soldier has sleepless nights and nightmares over the ramifications of their actions. Yet, they too learn a coping skill during battle. They surely learn to selectively focus on the enemy by compartmentalizing the realities of the war. It is usually after the adrenalin wears off that the inner scars of battle appear.
As we end the period of Tisha B’Av, only six days later is a time for celebration. The 15th day of Av is the Jewish Sadie Hawkins Day; a time to focus on romance and preparing for our future movers and shakers. Perhaps as we enter the period of the High Holidays it is time also to compartmentalize. Let us put the difficulties into prolonged respite and for the time being let us try to be joyous and happy. May the coming New Year usher in a year of blessing to all. As the Haftorah begins with Nachamu, Nachamu ami, indeed may we all be comforted in our undivided city of Jerusalem with many years of security and tranquility.