Every so often when you write (and yes, like your elderly mother in law, the next step is for me to complain about the infrequency of your letters), you share your negative, painful, sometimes tragic moments and/or days. Not that I have anything against negativity. It’s the stuff that makes the world go round, keeps us real, and challenges your moral fiber and trust in Hashem.
It’s the tone of impatience that often accompanies the narrative that worries me. It seems that on one hand you acknowledge that it’s no fun to live a life that’s like paint by number art that you outgrew. The problem is that the joy of achieving a meaningful life is only experienced when you get to the end of, what is often, a long trek on a dry hill. Yes, when you get to the top, you have no doubt that the climb was worth it, but it’s a really hard perspective to hold on to when you are barely half way up and feel like you can’t take another step. What you really need to know is why things take so long.
Welcome to the world of Tisha B’Av. Maharal talks about the nature of time (all the way from Yerushalaim I can hear those of you who dread Heavy Stuff repressing a sigh). Time is the measured sequence of change. Hashem created the world in a way in which light and dark alternate regularly enough to get us to sit up and take notice. You use an entire vocabulary, seconds, minutes, hours, days etc. to make life more definable. The first narrative in the Torah uses that vocabulary by telling you that the world was created in 6 days, and Hashem sanctified and blessed Shabbos by making it a day of rest. Obviously, the world doesn’t regress on Shabbos (see! I trust you! You noticed!). The world continues but the flow of energy that led to More and More ceased, which allows the day to reveal not only what Hashem does, but something of who He is.
There’s another narrative hidden within the same story. You may have noticed it, or you may have not focused on the wording enough to see it. There are 10 statements of creation, meaning 10 times where the Torah narrates that Hashem brought something about. “Let there be light” is the first directive, and “Let us make man in our image and our form” is the last. Nothing new was added after this statement. No new creatures or things. Humans are to reality what Shabbos is to time. You can relate to the Creator, not just the creation. We too can stop the flow of doing more and more things, and entwine doing with being.
The number 10 is an important number in Judaism. Besides the 10 statements of creation, we have 10 ways in which Avraham was challenged. He was the first person to be what I would call and experiential seeker of G-d. He brought Hashem into the real world. He didn’t just refrain from ruining the world, or retreat into meditation. He took Hashem with him when he invited guests, taught, and lived the way a human in Hashem’s image can live. Each test got him closer to the mountain top, but it was a hard hike. There are 10 commandments, each one of which tells you how to reach the top.
And now the obvious.
Nine comes before ten. It is the number that symbolizes how hard your struggle is. How many times you felt you couldn’t go on? It’s what a woman feels in the last moments of labor before the child emerges showing her that all of the struggle led to something.
Tisha B’Av is literally the 9thof Av. While the names of the months that we use are of Babylonian origin, their Hebrew meanings are relevant. Av means father. The month of Av is the month in which a in a certain sense we give birth to ourselves through struggle. It was on the 9th day, that in the desert the spies that Moshe sent said that they just don’t want to go on. The Land can’t be conquered. We’ll all die in the desert. Years later the first Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because we were distracted, weary of the search, self-indulgent, and very stuck in the world of 9. The Jews of the time were distracted by the world enough to worship idols, distracted by their egos enough to shed blood, and distracted enough by their bodies to live promiscuously.
There were 10 constant miracles in the Bais HaMikdash (look in 5thperek of Pirkei Avos if you either don’t believe me, or want to see what they were). Having the Bais HaMikdash to continue its existence in their midst would have been the wrong message. It would tell them that All Is Well, which was the most destructive message that they could have heard. The second Bais HaMikdash was built even though we didn’t really heal. What we did have going for us was that when you look at the entire people, you could see wholeness. One person may have ego issues, but others didn’t. They didn’t live in tiny little worlds with a population of one. They lived with and for each other. The Bais HaMikdash was destroyed only when that too had faded, and we descended into the bottomless pit of in-fighting, senseless hatred, fragmentation that we still suffer from now.
Bad news, no?
Here’s the good news.
We are close to the top. We have the merits of all of the generations that preceded us. We are living in the worst time (just think of the assimilation rates) and the best of times, times in which even one step forward can get you to the top. You know yourselves well enough to figure out what step you have to take next. For some of you its finally letting go of the need to be the Winner and All Time Champion in your relationships. For others it’s letting go of gossip, and for others its re-establishing a meaningful relationship with Hashem, the source of all wholeness.
Have a meaningful and maybe even transformational Tisha B’Av. Keep going and remember Hashem gives you all the strength you need to get to the top.