Jewish sleepaway camp provided many of today’s adults with their first Tisha B’Av experience. There they sat on the floor of the Beit Am (communal building), watched interpretive dance, listened to the camp choir, or slept off a fast in the heat of the afternoon sun.
They learned that we mourn and fast on Tisha B’Av because the destruction of both the First and Second Temples (as well as many other calamities in Jewish history) took place on that date – but usually, that’s where the education stops.
And this summer, far fewer will delve into Tisha B’Av with virtually all camps closed. But the solemn day contains a much deeper message – perhaps an inspiringly poignant one – for us today.
Synagogues will engage those resolute members of the community virtually this year on Tisha B’Av. But unlike Passover, virtual mourning is not at all like virtual celebrating. Sitting on the floor of one’s home, watching the chanting of Eikha (Lamentations) in the glow of one’s laptop just isn’t the same as fingers tinged by wax on the floor of the sanctuary.
Ironically, that in and of itself is the core of the holiday: that is, our communal mourning seeks to ease our communal detachment. We have loved and lost – and knowing that we are collectively mourning is supposed to quell that.
This year we are physically, and in a sense, spiritually, isolated and alone. This year, the pandemic exacerbates our loneliness. And in our loneliness, we need hope.
If we delve into the foundational observance of Tisha B’Av, we realize this is not the first time we’ve experienced such communal loneliness. In fact, exile is exactly that – it is a feeling of normlessness compounded by a loss of home, a loss of a handle on reality, a loss of a center of gravity.
This is precisely why the rabbis taught in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2:4) that the day the Temple was destroyed, our Redeemer was born. The Redeemer born from the ashes of destruction is not just Mashiach – it is hope personified.
When our Scripture speaks of the messianic era, it paints a picture of hope. As Isaiah 2:4 teaches us: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare.” The messianic age will be a time when war ceases to exist.
But perhaps more important than that is the rabbi-physician Maimonides’ worldview: “there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry. For the good will be plentiful, and all delicacies available as dust” (Law of Kings 12:5).
No hunger. No joblessness. No maladies. No hate. No divisiveness. No turmoil. No natural disasters. And most poignant: no pandemic.
The nuance of the rabbis’ teaching is that the one who will help us usher in this age was not born on the 9th of Av millennia ago; this redeemer is born each year – and our hope assists us in rearing the generation who will help us realize the future of our dreams. A world that lacks malice and tragedy.
And that, humbly, is our prayer this year.
Comfort us God and give us Hope. Give us hope that tomorrow will come sooner than today – and with it will be not only a respite to the plague that afflicts us today but an absolute cessation of all that hurts. May you take away our sickness, our divisions, our pain – and replace them all with the brightness of a new tomorrow. And may you do so speedily in our day.
And we, in unison, albeit physically separate, will say Amen.