When I looked out my window this morning, all I could see was fog. Monochrome gray and swaying trees. This morning the fog made me feel like time was standing still. We are still in the middle of the monotony of the pandemic and yet we know that time marches on. Nothing reminds us of time marching forward more than reaching the Hebrew month of Av, which we did just this past week.
Av is characterized by heat in most places (fog in San Francisco), destruction, passion, and love. This Hebrew month is a rollercoaster of emotions. Next week we will be met with Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av where we remember the destruction of the First Temple, the Second Temple and is the day attributed to awful events that befell the Jewish people throughout history. Tradition teaches that we are to mourn as we have lost a loved one, that we have lost our beloved Jerusalem. We are to sit on low stools, we are to fast, to weep the words of Lamentations – one of the five scrolls that we read throughout the year. We are to mourn the destruction of Jewish life throughout history but by the end of the day, we are to begin to rise up again.
In the past, I questioned the importance of wailing and mourning over the destruction of the Temples. My ambivalence stemmed from the fact that had the Second Temple not fallen, we would not have the Judaism that we do today. However, this year more than ever, can I identify with the intense feelings of Tisha B’Av.
This year, we can all see destruction and despair around us. We can see passions flaring, confusion, lives lost, children unmoored, people untethered to routine and safety. Our country is unrecognizable to what it was just a few years ago. The civility, justice, integrity of our civil society is breaking down. Today, headlines are flashing about federal agents tear gassing peaceful protesters in Portland, just hours north of where we are. COVID-19 has taken over 143,000 lives, a high percentage of them people of color and yet there are also headlines saying that a portion of our fellow Americans believe it is a hoax.
Children, parents, and teachers are facing impossible decisions on whether or not they will be able to safely return to school;
a safe-haven, a food source for some, a developmentally appropriate way to spend childhood, in the presence of other children. And yet, if school boards make the decision to provide distance learning they might face defunding from the federal government. The summer has also been dominated by the need to reckon with white supremacy and racial bias. As well as civil unrest around the globe. The first line in the book of Eicha says, “Eicha yashva b’dad.” “Alas, the city is in ruins.” Eicaha is something translated as “How?” How can this all be happening? We ask ourselves this question all the time. How? When will it be over? Will we make it? The answers at this moment are unclear but we keep moving forward.
Tisha B’Av also marks the beginning of the seven week climb from the depths of despair to the height of Rosh Ha’Shanah – the new year. Nothing about this journey is standing still, it is all about moving forward. When all we can do is doomscroll at 4am and look out at the fog and feel like time has stopped, we are reminded once again, by our experience and our tradition that time continues. Each week from Tisha B’Av to Rosh HaShanah, we are offered messages of consolation from our prophets, we are told that things might not be going very well right now, but they will get better. Our despair is real but ultimately, it is temporary. We will reach the heights of Rosh HaShanah, the cleansing feeling of Yom Kippur, we will feel the hot wind rustling the palms on our sukkot. Those experiences will certainly be different but they will happen and we will greet them generously and with joy.
Tisha B’Av is not the only special day in the month of Av. Just six days after this moment of desolation we celebrate Tu B’Av – the 15th of Av. Coinciding with the full moon, this day is marked in Israel and and by Jewish people around the world as a day of love, a day of matchmaking, a day of celebrating connection, rather than destruction. In just six days, we are asked to suspend the mourning and setting our sights on Rosh HaShanah and we are supposed to remember love.
For this Shabbat, let us be thankful for the opportunity to recognize the world as it is, chaotic, messy and a bit scary and also the world as it could and should be, full of love, optimism and hope. This month we get it all. By the end of my writing of this sermon, I could finally see a little blue sky peeking through the clouds. May it be so for all of us too.