Tisha B'Av and 9/11
This was originally posted at Mamash and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.
“A day of darkness and gloom; a day of cloud and shadows; spread like soot over the hills…their vanguard a consuming fire, in their wake a devouring flame”
These are the words of the Hebrew prophet Joel. The Tradition tells us that this, Joel’s prophecy, portended the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE; scholars, however, claim that these words are more probably a report on the devastation and destruction that the enemy, Babylon, actually wrought upon the Jews.
That day of destruction happened on 11-9, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the 11th month after the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. Not only was the First Temple destroyed on the 9th of Av, but on that very same day, in the year 70 CE, the Second Temple, and Jewish life in Jerusalem was also destroyed.
11-9: the 9th of Av. Tisha (the Hebrew word for 9) B’(of) Av.
A day of darkness and gloom, soot and fire.
A day of death and destruction.
A national tragedy.
A day of mourning, of wailing and despair.
A day, not unlike… 9-11.
In 9 days, on the 9th of August, Jews worldwide will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the day on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed, a day on which numerous other tragedies befell the Jews.
In 41 days the United States, together with the world, will commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9-11. A day which changed America, and the world, forever.
How do we appropriately give reverence to such a day? Perhaps the wisdom of the ancient Jewish sages can be a guide.
One such sage, Rabbi Yehoshua, said to his disciples: “My children, it is not permissible to mourn excessively. Yet neither is it permissible to not mourn at all. Rather, this is what our sages suggest, `One should paint his house with lime, but leave a small patch unpainted, as a remembrance of the destruction. One should prepare all the dishes for a banquet, yet refrain from serving one dish, as a remembrance of the Temple. And a woman should put on her jewelry, yet remove a piece, as a remembrance of Jerusalem.’
It’s one of the reasons that at the end of a Jewish wedding the groom breaks a glass: to remind us that even in a time of our greatest joy, we remember the brokenness of the past, that shard of memory of lives and a way of life lost that pierces us, even if and when the actual events are beyond the scope of memory.
But we don’t allow that shard to cripple or even impair us. We continue to build our homes, to build our families, we continue to dress up, to celebrate. In other words, yes, we mourn, and then we move on to the business of healing. And just as we suffered the losses as a nation, so did we and do we move forward together.
Because after 9-11 came 9-12. Who doesn’t remember what it felt like on 9-12? Strangers reached out to talk to each other, to help each other, to comfort each other and to share the best of themselves with each other. Everyday people became heroes. In the depth of our collective despair, we lifted each other up. One might say that 9-12 brought out the best in all of us.
On the Sabbath immediately following the 9th of Av, we read the prophet Isaiah’s words to, “take comfort, take comfort, my people.” This September 11th, 12th and beyond let’s go a step further, and remember how good it was to extend a hand, an arm, ourselves.
Rabbi Lori Koffman is Founder and Director of Mamash, an organization that convenes groups that meet regularly when, where, and with whom the group chooses, for conversations led by a facilitator about contemporary topics integrating Jewish text tradition and history.