our own 9/11
Its Tisha bav afternoon and I’m sitting here at my computer reading about this tragic day, its history and its meaning and I’m wondering.. why don’t I feel it the way I should?
I don’t think this post will get read by many, most of you wont be at your computer today, and by the time you log on, after the fast, you wont want to read about tisha bav..
So I’m writing this for myself, to make sense of this day, to help clear my mind and understand what I should be feeling.
It’s midday and I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing. I ate an egg dipped in ashes last night, I sat on the floor, I’m not wearing freshly cleaned clothes, I’m not showered, I’m not eating or drinking, I’m not listening to music, I’m not entertaining myself with frivolous activities.. I’m spending this long day, thinking and reading.. and yet I don’t feel the sadness I should.
I read about the destruction of the temples, I think of the massacres of the time, I think of the Spanish inquisition which was also started today, I think of the Holocaust, I think of all kinds of tragedies that have befallen my people, and it makes me sad.. but I don’t feel ... Tisha Bav.
What am I looking for? What am I trying to feel?
I’ve been thinking that maybe I just don’t understand what the loss of the beit hamikdash is because I don’t understand what having it was like. It can’t be the beauty of it, no one would spend 2000 years crying over stones and gold and silver, it must be the deeper reality of its existence.
One way of empathizing is to try and find a similar situation that you've experienced that helps you understand the feeling and then to project that onto another situation so it can be internalized. So, I tried that, and I thought of 9/11 - the destruction of 2 massive buildings that tragically altered the face of our reality.
Sounds comparable.. kind of..
So I started thinking.. true thousands of people died on September 11th, true the 2 world trade center towers were savagely demolished..
But… millions of people have been massacred across the globe, countless edifices have been destroyed, what is it about the thought of 9/11 that gives me goose bumps, that sends a tremor of fear up my spine?
When we think of 9/11, when we mourn that fateful day, few of us are thinking of the loss of the two buildings. Aside from those who have lost close ones, most of us don’t even think of the loss of life. In fact when 9/11 comes up, most of us react with a feeling, not a thought. We feel the effects of its loss, we feel the aftershocks. And the truth is, we feel them every day since then. 9/11 has completely distorted our understanding of what life is supposed to be like.
I cant believe that it’s only a few years ago that we didn’t have security checks in the airports, that we didn’t have a Homeland Security Advisory System, where terrorist attacks were not expected occurrences, where the news of American and Canadian soldiers dying in current battles was appalling. I cant believe that its only a few years ago that fundamentalist Islam was a distant threat that none of us seriously considered and that we lived our lives without the constant menace of terror attacks. Personally, I know that every time I sit on a subway train in New York, for a split second, I wonder if there isn’t a terrorist riding along with me and for a fleeting moment i feel a stab of fear, of insecurity. I know that every single time I’ve been in a tunnel or a bridge I’ve considered the option that the van next to me may be carrying explosives. I know that I’ve worried about wearing my magen david in my university, I’ve worried about expressing my opinions, I’ve worried about possible travel destinations, I’ve worried about suspicious individuals I come across, I’ve worried about a war, I’ve worried about chaos and destruction.
None of these thoughts were part of my thinking before 9/11.
All Americans should continue to be vigilant, take notice of their surroundings, and report suspicions items or activities to local authoritiesimmediately.
Everybody should establish an emergency preparedness kit as well as a communications plan for themselves and their family, and stay informed about what to do during an emergency situation.”
So when I think of September 11th, the thoughts that come to my mind are most often related to the effects of that attack. I feel the fear and the insecurity, the disconnection from the more peaceful reality I once lived.
And that got me to thinking about our own 9th day of the 11th month, the day our two temples were destroyed. Maybe I’m not feeling it because I’m trying to mourn a physical loss which is so far from my reality that I cant appreciate it, instead of mourning the effects of it which I currently experience.
True, not having a bet himkdash means I cant experience the beauty of it, I cant pray there, I cant see or hear the kohanim.. but that’s not what hurts the most. With the loss of the temple, came the distancing of G-d, and that’s where the real tragedy is.
Having lost the temples has led to our disconnecting from Truth and Reality. The illusion of materialism blinds us - we don’t have the temple anymore where the joining of the physical and the material was experienced daily. We’ve lost the clarity; we no longer have prophets who can guide us. On Shavuot we celebrated our marriage to G-d, and on Tisha bav we’ve been repudiated by our Beloved, forsaken and left alone. We have been left to fend for ourselves, broken and scattered.
Where has this disconnection and lack of clarity led us to? It has led us to wars, to abuse, to cruelty. No man would cheat on his wife, no parent would strike his child, no teenager would commit suicide, no single mom would go to bed crying night after night.. if we had the clarity and the tangible knowledge that G-d was with us. No holocaust could have happened, no Cossacks, no inquisitors, no hizbulla, no katuyshas could exist if G-d was allowed a real presence in our midst. No loneliness, no fear, no confusion would plague our minds and our souls if we could connect to G-d in a sincere way. Like a child comforted by his mother when she hugs him, we'd have a Home to go to and be reassured and comforted.
When we had a temple, we had a place to witness the Shechina in a tangible way. We had a place to ask for forgiveness, and be forgiven, we witnessed miracles, we had a home with our Beloved. How many times do you hear people say "If G-d spoke to me, if I witnessed a miracle, I’d believe?" How many times have you thought, "please Hashem, just give me a sign?" How many times have I felt alone, overwhelmed, scared, desperate and begged Hashem to take care of me?
We could have had that, but we lost it.
How many of us find ourselves straying from the path we want to be on, how often do we get weak and give in to temptation, how many times do we feel so removed and distant from G-d that we decide we have take matters into our own hands. How much of that distance has translated itself into fear, into bitterness, and eventually to harming ourselves and others.
I can’t cry for the temple because I barely understand what it was. I can barely cry for the Holocaust because I have been so desensitized to it. But, I can cry for all the pain and suffering I witness around me. I can cry for the soldiers, I can cry for their moms. I can cry for those who are so far from a meaningful existence, and for those searching and being led astray by imposters. I can cry for those of us who have been deceived, lied to, abused by our leaders. I can cry for the selfishness, the hate, the malice we endure on a daily basis. I can cry for all of the effects of this original destruction, for the painful and chaotic existence we now live.
Tisha bav will be over in a few hours, I’ll eat, I’ll play some music, I’ll feel the anxiety lift off and and I’m afraid I’ll resume my life just as it was a few weeks ago.
But that will simply lead me back here, a year from now, G-d forbid.
I cant cry for the loss of the temple all year long. I don’t have it in me. But, unfortunately, I will keep crying for the effects of it because the impact is ongoing. The suffering will continue, long after the fast, long after the commemoration, long after the mandatory tears. The effects of this loss, close to 2000 years old, will keep me suffering every day, and if I cant mourn over the temple, I hope that I can at least carry with me the clarity to understand that the reason I suffer, the reason there is suffering around me, is a direct result of this day, a direct result of being expelled from home, and far away from my G-d.