Tisha B'Av: The Oldest Story in the Book
Can Jews turn Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning, into a time for healing?
Perhaps this is what the Talmudic rabbis had in mind when they put hatred in the spotlight while discussing Tisha B'Av. Not hatred against the Jews, mind you, but hatred within the Jewish community itself. The rabbis pinned the destruction of the Second Temple, the community's holiest place, on the rampant antipathy that raged among so-called kindred spirits. It didn't matter that they were a generation well-versed in the Bible, nor that they upheld its precepts; their failure to neutralize hatred put them in exile. The tragedy of exile is that you do not die, but have to live each day in a condition of homelessness. The fact of the matter is that in the biblical account of the world's creation, love, not hate, is the oldest story in the book. In Genesis, we learn that God loves Adam so much that, seeing his loneliness, creates Eve. From the verses that follow, we learn that it's possible for people to love one another, be so much a part of each other, that hurting that other is like harming oneself. Hatred comes next-Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Love, destruction, reconciliation, forgiveness-they're all in there. But any nutritionist will tell you that the first ingredient listed on a package is the one there's most of in the product.
This world is the product-it, and we, are an enormous work in progress. In an infinite universe, it's hard to say whether humanity is even in middle age, but it's safe to say it's been around the block a few times. Yet the lessons of love are still the hardest to learn. As Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote:
"The novelists never told us that in love, as in other matters, the young are just beginners and that the art of loving matures with age and experience. Furthermore, while many of the young believe that the world can be made better by sudden changes in social order and by bloody and exhausting revolutions, most older people have learned that hatred and cruelty never produce anything but their own kind. The only hope of mankind is love in its various forms and manifestations the source of them all being love of life, which, as we know, increases and ripens with the years."
On Tisha B'Av, we read verses from Eicha-the Book of Lamentations. Lamentations are regrets-for not acting when we had the chance, for wanting to undo what cannot be undone. As the world gets on in years, as each of us gets older, too, could we be the ones to learn to love with the maturity of experience and long memory that makes fast days a thing of the past? Tisha B'Av is an opportunity to imagine a world without regret, a world ripe with the possibilities that can only grow from love. And the day after Tisha B'Av is the time to build it. The morning after, we emerge from a period of sorrow by reaffirming life, love, and creation.