Burning & Yearning: Hiroshima and the Ancient Holy Temples

Dear friends,

Each hot mid-summer, we see again how Jewish theology and practice is one (not the only) microcosm for universal experience.

 In this case, it is our sorrow for our burning earth, for our own hearts burning with acts of personal and social self-destruction -- and our yearning for new hope and transformation. (See two litanies of sorrow and yearning, below.)

 In mid-summer, when scorching winds heated by the Arabian desert sweep across what today are Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, Jewish tradition observes a day of sorrow for the Destruction -- the burning -- of both ancient Holy Temples in Jerusalem, first by the Babylonian and then by the Roman Empire.

Jewish theology takes responsibility for these Destructions:  "For our sins the Temple was destroyed." For the Jews of those eras had the power to shape their own religious and political futures --  and failed to live up to their responsibility of choosing justice, peace, and healing. 

This year, the day of mourning --  Tisha B'Av --  falls on August 10. That puts it four days after the anniversary of the atomic burning of  Hiroshima, one day after the anniversary of Nagasaki's  destruction.  The days are always close, sometimes identical. And the archetype of human self-destruction is the same.

The ancient Rabbis understood that Tisha B'Av was not only a Jewish-tribal lament, but bore in itself the seed of universal sorrow for the Holy Place defiled. The Holy Temple, they taught, was not merely the Jewish tribal place for bringing offerings to God; it was a microcosm of the Universe.

The Book of Lamentations, the biblical text that is read on Tisha B'Av, begins with an desolate outcry, "Eicha!"   The Rabbis asked, when was the first outcry of Eicha?  They answered ---  "Ayekka!"  (which has the same consonants and only different vowels). 

And what is this "Ayekka"?  It is God's own lament, "Where are you?!" --  God's own lament as Eve & Adam hid, the Garden of Delight already shattered, the whole human race going into exile.  

And what was the sin of Eden? God said, Reality taught --  "Your home is overflowing with abundance. Eat joyfully - but restrain yourselves, do not gobble up all this abundance. Of just one tree, don't eat." 

The sin was trying to gobble up all earth. Its consequence was that the earth's abundance  became  sparse. Only thorns and thistles would it grow, and human beings would have to toil with the sweat pouring down their faces, just to eat.

And that is our sin today: Gobbling up the earth. Shrugging off all self-restraint.  Turning the power of the atom's nucleus to conflagration. Bringing about the climate crisis in which the smoke and fire we ourselves  have kindled with our fossil fuels will burn our planet into desert.

Thus today for Tisha B'Av we mourn the danger of destruction  of our earth, the Holy Temple of all Humanity.

What then does it  mean to lament, this year, for Hiroshima and for the ancient Temples? It means to take action to end not merely any effort by Iran to make nuclear weapons, but to insist on clearing the earth of nuclear weapons altogether. It means to stop treating our autos as our idols, to end our addiction to coal and oil, to welcome "the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings" that can forestall "the day that burns like a furnace."    (Malachi)   Solar power instead of global scorching.

The Book of Eicha, Lamentations, ends with hope and yearning: "You Who are the Breath of Life, help us turn back to You. Make new our days as they were long ago."

 And to help us commit our whole selves - body, heart, mind, soul - to make this turning and heal our Holy Place, we can draw on these poems, prayers, or litanies.

Shalom, salaam, pax --  Arthur

Between the Fires

We are the generation that stands
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and Hiroshima;
and from the burning Amazon;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The flame and smoke that could consume all earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.
We light these fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in our many-colored faces.
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.

Here! I will send you
Elijah the Prophet
Before the coming
of the great and terrible day
of YAHH, the Breath of Life.
And he shall turn the heart
Of parents to children
And the heart of children to their parents.
Lest I come and
Smite the earth
With utter destruction.

Here! we ourselves are coming
Before the great and terrible day
of smiting Earth -
For we shall turn the hearts
Of parents to children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.

Smoke and Ashes: Tisha B'Av
I have thrown love into the flames; my heart is scorched and burning.
I gasp its smoke, my throat rattles: I cannot breathe the Breath of Life.
My work, my holy work! Gone in a flash of light and fire!

I cannot work, I cannot rest; my hands and legs, my eyes, are burning with fatigue.
My eyes are hot with watching:
Around the earth I see the burning cities.

I see the neighborhoods of those who share one language turn to rape and torture those who speak another mother-tongue.
I watch: children shriek their empty bellies, old men carry empty buckets to an empty well.
I watch: the sky has turned to smoke, the earth to ashes, the waters to a stinking oily scald.
I watch. I watch.

What can I do? What have I done?
My eyes are burning with tears I cannot shed; my tongue curls inward, hot for shame, inflamed by words of holy flame I cannot speak.
Who speaks my language, who shares my neighborhood, who warms my mother's food upon her tongue?
Who knows the fiery secrets that my family fed me?
My belly burns with swallowed words, with scalding rage.

And You! Where is the easy breathing of your Name? Where is Your Breast of cool and nurturing flow?
Have I myself torn fevered scratches of despair into my eyes and mouth?
Or is it You have turned my nursing into gnawing?
Where is my gentle murmuring holy rest?
Where is the playful, calming talk of wisdom?
The fever of my endless work consumes me; my body's burning is unbearable.
The fever of our endless work consumes us; our burning is unbearable.

Become for me again a pool of clear, calm water;
Become for us again our holy wellspring.
Our tears, my tears, all tears, an Ocean of new life.


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