Tisha B'Av: The Day of Universal Exile

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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We usually see Tisha B'Av as the quintessential day of Jewish mourning: two Temples in Jerusalem destroyed, the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, so many pogroms and disasters.

But some of the ancient rabbis connected this day and this alienation and this lament with which we bewailed our loss of our own sense of rightful place and honor in the universe, with that experience in all human beings.

We read in Midrash Rabbah about the word that gives its name to the holy book we read on Tisha B'Av, Eikha, or Lamentations:
R. Abbahu opened his discourse with the text, But they like men have transgressed the covenant (Hos. VI, 7). This alludes to the first man, of whom the Holy One, blessed be He, said, 'I brought him into the Garden of Eden and imposed a command upon him, but he transgressed it; so I punished him by driving him out and sending him forth,5 and lamented over him, Ekah.'

'I brought him into the Garden of Eden,' as it is said, And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden (Gen. II, 15). 'I imposed a command upon him,' as it is said, And the Lord God commanded the man, saying (ib. I6). 'But he transgressed My command,' as it is said, Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (ib. III, 11).

'So I punished him by driving him out,' as it is said, So He drove out the man (ib. 24), and 'by sending him forth', as it is said, Therefore the Lord God sent him forth (ib. 23), and 'lamented over him, Ekah', as it is said, Where art thou? — ayyekah (ib. 9), this being written ekah.

Similarly with his descendants. I brought them into the land of Israel, as it is said, And I brought you into a land of fruitful fields (Jer. II, 7). I gave them commandments, as it is said, Command the children of Israel (Lev. XXIV, 2). They transgressed My ordinances, as it is said, Yea, all Israel have transgressed Thy law (Dan. IX, 11).

So I punished them by driving them out, as it is said, I will drive them out of My house (Hos. IX, 15), and by sending them forth, as it is said, Cast them out of My sight and let them go forth (Jer. XV, 1); and I lamented over them, 'How [Eikhah!] sitteth solitary.'

(From Soncino Press edition, Midrash Rabbah, Volume VII, 2d section), pp. 6-7.

For some of us today, this notion of "commands" from a God Who is beyond all worlds may not speak truthfully. It may seem more truthful to see these teachings as bespeaking truth about the Web of connection in the world.

Breaking that Web brings brokenness upon us.

If we Jews fail to meet the necessary conditions of living in the fragile social-ecosystem of the Land of Israel, that vulnerable place where three continents and many peoples meet, then we will find ourselves cast out.

If we human beings fail to walk a path in which our eating from the tree of all abundance also feeds the Tree, then we will find the earth at war with us and ourselves cast out from Eden, the Garden of Delight.

The Temple that was burned on Tisha B'Av was a microcosm of the Holy Universe. Let us learn and remember that the earth, all earth, is not for burning.

In the Tisha B'Av section of our Website for this year, we have posted a "Lamentations for the New Millennium" — for our own generation.

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