Burning Temple & Birthing Messiah

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

In Jewish tradition, the saddest day in the sacred calendar is also a day of hope.

Bottom line first, and then an explanation: We propose that we join in honoring that day of grief and hope – this year, August 30 -- by "fasting" from gasoline and meat and by using the money that we save to support those who are striving to heal the web of life upon our planet.

Why? First of all, the mid-summer anniversary of the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is also, according to tradition, the day on which the Messiah is born. (Only born, and then hidden away till the time when the world is ready for its transformation.)

This connection between disaster and joy bears some similarities –- with important differences, of course -- to Christian belief connecting the torture and death of Jesus with the resurrection of the Christ, just three days later.

We are approaching that moment in Jewish time. The ninth day of the midsummer month of Av, Tisha B'Av, recalls when the Holy Temple was burned by the Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE and again by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. This year it comes in the Western calendar from sunset Wednesday July 29 to sunset Thursday July 30, 2009.

Traditionally, Jews have fasted from all food, water, sex, the wearing of leather, and the pleasures of bathing for the whole 24 hours. In effect, each person became a refugee, joining for one day what the Book of Lamentations describes as a Death March from Jerusalem to captivity in Babylon.

This memory of the burning of the Temple comes when scorching winds blow across the Middle East, when forest fires blaze, when grassy savannahs shrivel in the drought brought on – in our generation –-- by global heating.

It is as if the burning of the Temple is a miniature version of the scorching of our planet.

Indeed, there are traditional teachings that treat Tisha B'Av exactly in this way – not as the patented property of the Jewish people alone.

For example: On that day we read the book of Lamentations -- in Hebrew, Eicha. One ancient rabbi asked: "When was the first Eicha, the first lamentation?" Another answered: In Eden, the Garden of Delight, when the humans tried to hide from God and God cried out, "Ayekka -- Where are you?" For the word "Ayekka" and the word "Eicha" are made of the same consonants, different only in the vowels that do not even appear in the original sacred text.

Adam and Eve were hungry for knowledge, for more ability to control the world around them. God said and Reality made clear that there was great abundance to please and satisfy their bellies -- so long as they put gentle limits on themselves and left some of the abundance for the other creatures who also lived in the great Tree of Life.

But they over-reached. They felt so needy that they treated that world as merely an It, grabbing at its food instead of respecting holy boundaries. Their action drove them into exile. The abundance shriveled into thorns and thistles; only by sweat and toil could they raise enough to eat. The violence they had imposed upon the world arose to wound them, to murder their child.

And Jewish tradition teaches that the Holy Temple and the portable Shrine that came before it were microcosms of the universe. That the process of building the Holy House tracked God's Own process in creating the world, including the importance of pausing from the building to celebrate Shabbat. To set some gentle limits on Doing in order to Be.

Today it is not just one holy point of contact between God and one people that is on the verge of burning, but the macrocosm – the planet that bears the web of life. Possible disaster and planetary exile glower at us because we have been trying to gobble up the world instead of sharing its abundance with all creatures. We have refused to pause from Doing in order to Be.

So the earth is burning. From our over-use of fossil fuels and our over-production of cattle, the earth is burning. Just this past week, Oxfam and Lutheran World Relief reported that global scorching is causing deepening droughts in East Africa. In Kenya, three consecutive years without sufficient rainfall have left 2.5 million people without reliable sources of food. By November 2009, the figure is expected to rise to 2.9 million.

Who pleads for the African women raped on the long long way to find a bush to burn to cook their babies' meals, because the scorching of our planet has dried up the food that used to grow, and marauders murder for the little that is left?

But the story also teaches us that even -- or especially – on the very day of the Temple's burning from the Babylonians' and Romans' misuse of unrestrained military power, the Messianic days of fruitful peace and justice can be born. IF we can learn to restrain ourselves. IF we learn to let abundance flow for all earth's life-forms – including ourselves. IF we will set some limits to our power and encourage the flourishing of life-forms other than our selves.

So we propose that this year we honor this day by fasting gently to bear witness both to grief and hope. Grief for what has burned and died. Hope that if we can take the occasion to restrain our appetites, our planet's community of life can be reborn.

We urge that we especially focus our fast on restraining our use of gasoline and beef. The burning of gasoline and the raising of cattle are two of the most planet-scorching actions that we take. (One emits carbon dioxide, the other emits methane.)

And we ask you to begin planning now to use October 24 as part of a world-wide day to heal our wounded climate. The Call has come from scientists of every continent and community; it has also come from Jewish leaders who urge us to observe it as "Climate Healing Shabbat" when Jews read the biblical story of Noah, the life-destroying Flood, the saving Ark, and the redemptive Rainbow

For more information, please click to http://www.theshalomcenter.org/node/1517

To register your own intention to take part in this effort, please click to both these places:


And finally, please devote the money you would have spent for meat and gasoline to supporting efforts to heal the suffering earth. One of those efforts, of course, is The Shalom Center's work. See the Donate Now button on the right-hand margin for how to strengthen that work.

Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur


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