As I am writing this note, our community has just turned the corner from our annual three-week period of mourning for the loss of the first and second Temples. From the 17th of Tammuz until Tisha B’Av, we’ve explored the relationship between two Biblical words that without vowels are spelled alike in our Torah: Ayeka – Where are you? And Eicha – How did this happen to me/us? The similarity in the Hebrew spelling encourages us to reflect on the thematic connection. Perhaps this past period in the Jewish calendar encourages us to
examine our own current moral status in terms of how it might be impacting the suffering we see and experience in our own lives and in the world. At Beth Israel, we do an awful lot of good in the world, but as Jews, how can we do better? Are there those who we can better reach out to, or social justice issues we are avoiding lending our voices to? Are there blind spots and real suffering in our community that is going overlooked?
At our recent Tisha B’Av prayer gathering, we had some deep and meaningful experiences as we studied together the poetic and metaphoric structures and social implications of our Lamentation poetry. We listened as Rebecca, Gabriel, Uri, and Jacob gave poignant and passionate expression to our traditional liturgy. The chanting of the Biblical poetry gave ear to voices of suffering and protest that really resonate with anyone who has ever experienced devastation, loss, poverty, hunger, or abuse. Too often we see those who suffer without an ability to connect to their pain or to facilitate a voice of protest. Participating in Eicha gives voice to our lament: “Why has this happened to me, to us, to our community, to our country?”
On July 27, we celebrated Tu B’Av, the Festival Day of love, a fitting metaphor for the gradual uplift in our spirits that we begin to feel as we begin the long and gradual build-up to maximum joy at Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. Once we have turned this corner and have re-dedicated ourselves anew to doing good that will make a difference in the world, we begin to experience God’s love on a different footing. Each year we have this opportunity to make this same turn, in our relationships, our commitments, and our caring. As we are doing so, each of our Haftarot during this period leading up to the High Holidays is designed to bring comfort to sufferers. But how do we make that transition? What is it that brings healing and comfort to us after experiencing
personal suffering and loss?
Trees when they are wounded are said to heal over but never completely rid themselves entirely of a wound. Perhaps trying to help someone heal is a futile endeavor without a real ability to see and witness the whole living being. Our brokenness and our wounds are an integral part of our being, and we take comfort in community as a place where we can safely share our vulnerabilities.
Like the magnificent tree who, despite her wounds, sprouts new leaves and reaches out with new branches each year, we have the capacity with each new Holiday season to really listen to each other and to grow together and strengthen ourselves and our communities in unexpected ways. May we leverage our comfort and our wholeness to move eagerly and with intention toward the jolting sounds of the Shofar in the month of Elul, reawakening ourselves to reach out to others in our community in need of our listening, our presence, and our care. Let’s all take a new visionary hold on our sacred tree of life, Etz Chaim, so that we experience the upcoming Holiday season with renewed depth, commitment and joy.