Monday, July 19, 2010

For these, I cry...

I always dread this time of year. I know that most people do: the fasting, the discomfort, the whole theme of this season, seemingly mismatched with the climate of this point in the year...but I have other things on my mind, that probably bother others as well.

It is so hard to conjure up any true feelings of sadness for the 9th of Av. What are we mourning for? I know that I don't understand what it means to be in exile. For my entire life, this existence is all I have ever known! What does it mean to not have a Beis HaMikdash? Do we really understand that? Does any of us really have any appreciation for what we're missing? I don't.

Like Ne'ila on Yom Kippur, we are supposed to at least try and bring ourselves to tears on the 9th of Av; our tears have tremendous spiritual power in Heaven and arouse God's mercy.

How am I supposed to cry when we read Eicha? How am I supposed to stir up an emotional response to the many kinot that will be said tomorrow?

I have discussed this with people in the past, but they always respond with the same platitudes. They offer up abstract ideas to consider, observations that are saddening, but don't carry the emotional weight that they ought to, at least not with me. This might sound harsh, but while the myriads of unaffiliated Jews who don't know how to even recite the Shema is sad, in the grand scheme of things - it is still a very difficult thing to relate to. Those countless Jews have no faces, no names, I don't know their favorite colors, dishes, or anything about them that should cause me to care more about them than anyone else. Don't get me wrong - anyone who reads this blog often knows how important kiruv is to me. And yet, it's not enough to enable me to mourn.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik once explained this idea, citing a story wherein Rabbi Akiva was going from town to town, raising funds to support the revolution. In one particular village, he was relating horrific tales of death, destruction and chaos that was occurring in the Holy Land, and no one responded to his reports. Switching tracks, Rabbi Akiva started telling them the story of Iyov, a wealthy businessman who had it all. Success, prominence, a healthy family, piety - the man who had it all. Until one day, he lost his fortune, and then is livestock, and then his family started to die. At this point, the villagers were stricken with grief and started opening up their coffers to give to Rabbi Akiva's cause.

Rabbi Soloveitchik summed up this phenomenon by stating "The story of the annihilation of mankind didn't move them. What moved them was the story of an individual tragedy...It is easier to be touched by a private, personal tragedy; it is impossible to think of six million graves."

So the idea is to somehow find something closer to home, something that we can relate to on an individual level. If we can arouse some feelings, that may open the doorway for us to create more relevant feelings for the churban.

So tomorrow, I'm going to think of my good friend who has been married nearly twice as long as I have, and still has not been blessed with children.

I will think about that tzaddik in shul, who never knows his son's whereabouts, or whether he'll come home safely, every night.

I'll mourn over the fact that an institution that I know and love - a place where I have invested much emotional, spiritual, and physical energy and called home for many years - may be forced to leave their home of many years. Forced to leave because of a few individuals who's financial concerns and blase attitude toward halacha and tzniut outweigh their debt to us for ensuring their endurance.

But most of all, I will mourn over the fact that I have to try so hard - the fact that the more "global" issues don't bother me because I fail to recognize their significance in my daily life. That indeed is a churban that we are experiencing in our times...

May this 9th of Av become a day of celebration, quickly...


Karma Dude said...


micha said...

Rav Soloveitchik's point was picked up by Steven Spielberg. It's the secret of the Little Girl in the Red Coat, the only spot of color in the otherwise black-and-white Schindler's List. She forced the viewer into realizing that "six million" isn't just some huge number. Each was a person.