When I got home last night ready to start the 25-hour fast of Tisha b’Av (no food, water, or bathing from sunset till dark the next day), mourning the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples and much else that’s tragic in Jewish history, the temperature was 105 degrees. Amazing! In Seattle, where thanks to the mellow, cool weather, nobody but the rich have air-conditioning in their homes! Today’s not much better — as I write at 6 pm it’s 97 degrees. Still more than three hours left to go. Both our home and our synagogue are cooled only by fans, though thank God the office where I work is nicely air conditioned. My wife is having a less easy time of it at home. Luckily, our kids, who are too young to fast, don’t seem much bothered.
I believe in synchronicity, the idea that juxtapositions of time and events not only may seem meaningful but do in fact convey real meaning. See Jung on that. If a tough fast comes on a day of record-breaking heat, I assume there’s meaning in it for me, and I don’t see it as a congratulatory “Job well done!” sort of pat on the back from the Holy One Blessed Be He.
You can’t read the book of Lamentations, whose chanting represents the centerpiece of Tisha b’Av, without seeing suffering as a message. The book recounts the suffering that accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Much of it had to do with physical deprivation. When you fast, you neither feel nor look your best. So this verse from Lamentations caught my attention, referring to the Nazirites who previously had been specimens of health; now, “Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick” (4:8). That’s about how I think I must appear right now.
The Talmud explains the tragedy of 70 CE, the last time Jerusalem was overturned and the Temple burned — on Tisha b’Av — as a consequence of God’s withdrawing his favor from the Jews. Their offense? A certain low narrow-spiritedness, selfishness in interpersonal relations, easily giving and taking offense, as in the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza
. Updated, the story might be called Gates and Crowley
, but without the Obama-hosted beers of reconciliation.
I can see myself in Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza. Is this Tisha b’Av an especially pointed message to me? But then what about everyone else in Seattle, Jewish and not Jewish? Can it represent the same message to all of them? It would seem highly unlikely. Clearly, synchronicity and providence in general demand a more complicated picture of reality than we are accustomed to dealing in.