I need to make a confession. I understand the importance of remembering past events, but I have a problem sympathizing with things that happened 2,000 years ago. Yes, I read Megillas Eichah and cringe when the prophet talks about Jewish women eating their children in order to survive. I also spend many hours on the floor reading the kinos – mostly with the English translation – and try my best to take things seriously… but it’s hard. Don’t get me wrong; I fully appreciate the great rabbanim who insisted we cry over the tragic events of Tish’ah B’Av and I agree that a people who does not know, and does not identify with the past, will be doomed to repeat it… but let me be honest: It’s a very hard thing for me to do.
I think the reason it’s so hard is because there’s nothing I can do about it. I am a “doer” and not a complainer (most of the time…), so when things are bad, I don’t just kvetch about it, I get up and make the necessary changes. It’s cold in the room? Put on a sweater, close the window or turn up the heat. Not enough salt in the food? Pick up a salt shaker and have fun. Have a headache? Take a nap or pop some Excedrin – you get the point. Don’t just sit there and tell me how bad things are.
In a way, that’s how I felt about Tish’ah B’Av for many years. We just sat around and complained. They did this to us, and then that to us. Jews were murdered here and then a few days later they were murdered there. I stress, once again, that it’s important, crucial, and vital to remember and cry about these events. We cannot forget the sacrifices made by our ancestors and the Jewish blood that was spilled so that we can serve Hashem hundreds of years later… but it doesn’t change the fact that it still made Tish’ah B’Av a day that was hard to connect to, until I made my discovery.
A few years ago, I realized something that changed the way I look at Tish’ah B’Av; and while I can’t say that I look forward to Tish’ah B’Av (that would be weird!), the day has become extremely meaningful for me from start to finish. In addition to reading Eichah and kinos, and all that happened many years ago (“The Tish’ah B’Av of Yesterday”), I started to focus on what I call “The Tish’ah B’Av of Today.” I focus on the national tragedies of what is happening right now – and what I can do to prevent them from continuing.
Think about it. We cry over the destruction of TWO Batei Mikdash that were destroyed approximately 2,000 and 2,500 years ago – and we should cry! Hashem lost His house! The Jewish people lost the one place in the universe where Heaven kissed Earth and where the Divine Presence rested in all Its glory. Judaism and Torah observance have not been the same since, even though we like to fool ourselves into thinking that everything is perfect. We are literally lost without the Beis HaMikdash, which is why our Rabbis instructed us to fast, weep, and sit on the floor on the day they were destroyed.
But that was the past and as important as it is, it is hard for many people – myself included – to cry over what we lost 2,000+ years ago. Yes, we should – but do we? However, all you need to do is see what is happening today on the exact spot of the Beis HaMikdash. Arab kids playing soccer. Arab mothers changing dirty diapers and throwing them on the ground. I have seen these things with my own eyes. Muslims praying to Allah and tour guides explaining about an ancient temple as if it’s in Rome. Where’s the Kohen Gadol today? Where are the L’viim today with their instruments and beautiful voices? Where’s the sweet-smelling incense that used to fill all of Jerusalem? I’m not talking about 2,000 years ago – I’m talking about today! Why can’t the Israeli government and the IDF – under the guidance and direction of leading rabbanim – do what must be done to end the disgrace on the Har HaBayis? Today – yes, today. Oy… Tish’ah B’Av.
We read kinos about Jewish communities being uprooted and how thousands of Jews were thrown out of their homes. How sad those words are and how important it is to read them and know what happened to our people; but, honestly, who can connect to them? Answer: Focus on the unfortunate events in our own days when thousands of Jews were thrown out of their homes in Yamit, Gush Katif, and over 50 towns in Yehuda and Shomron. What makes matters even worse is that in the modern era, it’s Jews throwing out fellow Jews! How did that happen? How did we sink so low? Did we really think that the world would love us after we destroyed homes, businesses, yeshivos, and shuls of our own brothers? Oy… Tish’ah B’Av.
My final example is actually the most painful of all, because it is well within our power to change. The two examples above are not simple, and while we must do everything possible on both the activism and political level, it is going to take more time to turn things around. This final example, however, is one that rips at my soul, because 90 percent of the people reading these words can take the steps necessary to end this tragedy – yet won’t. I am talking about Jews living in the exile who – for the first time in Jewish history – can move to Israel from their own free will. No special permission is needed from the government, no assets will be confiscated, and nobody needs to be left behind.
On Tish’ah B’Av, we read about Jews being thrown into the exile. How tragic are those stories from 2,000 years ago, but how real are those stories from today! Jews, wake up! Get out of Europe, Australia, South Africa, Canada, South America and the USA. I realize it’s not easy to move to Israel, but if I did it, you can do it! I moved in 1990 with my wife and four small children. Yes, it was hard and we had our bumps along the way. but it was the greatest thing we ever did! We were then blessed with two “Sabras” and I thank Hashem every day for helping us with this move. As I read about growing Jewish communities in Memphis, Detroit, and Norfolk, my heart cries out. Why move to Norfolk, Virginia? Because they speak English there? Because you can get tickets to see the Mets minor league team in Tidewater? Because it’s just a few minutes’ drive to lovely Virginia Beach? Can you swear to me that your grandchildren will marry Jews? Oy… Tish’ah B’Av.
Dearest friends: Tish’ah B’Av is a day of national mourning, but not just from thousands of years ago. While Tish’ah B’Av was upon us already this past weekend, I urge you to sit and cry over the tragedies also of today: the Jewish teenagers and adults (yes, adults) going “off the derech,” the Bedouin Arabs stealing massive amounts of Jewish land in the Negev and Galilee, the out-of-control intermarriage rate among our brothers and sisters, the growing problem of drugs and alcohol abuse in our communities, the large number of unmarried Jews who are beautiful inside and out but have not yet found their soulmate and – as mentioned above – the Jews around the world who have still not come home, the Israeli government that destroys Jewish homes, and the utter chilul Hashem of Hashem’s holiest place on earth.
On Tish’ah B’Av next year, if the Mashiach has not yet come – make sure you do both: Cry over the past but also over the present. May Hashem see our tears and comfort us by solving these problems so that no Jew will suffer again.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Shmuel Sackett is a 100% product of Queens. He was born in Middle Village and moved to KGH shortly before his bar-mitzvah. He graduated from YCQ (1975) and YHSQ (1979). He was Havurat Yisrael’s first Youth Director (4 years) and started the first 2 NCSY chapters in Queens. Shmuel made aliyah in 1990 and co-founded Manhigut Yehudit, together with Moshe Feiglin. His website is www.JewishIsrael.org Sackett is married with 6 children and 4 grandchildren. He lives in Herziliya Pituach.