Rabbi's Message - December 14, 2021
There’s a Talmudic tradition that, “Bad things come to pass on an unlucky day.” (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a). This statement is brought in the Talmud as proof that the Second Temple was destroyed on the same calendar date (the 9th of Av) as the First Temple. Today is not Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av), but a different fast day: Asara b’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet. While major tragedies in Jewish history are ascribed to Tisha B’Av, today is a minor fast, traditionally marking the siege of Jerusalem in 588 BCE. This siege eventually led to the destruction of the First Temple two years later. This day marks the beginning of the chain of events that lead to an unfathomable catastrophe for Jews at the time – the loss of Temple, sacrificial service, and religion as they knew it. As historians, we might see the almost two-year period from the siege to the destruction as a series of political and military acts. In Jewish tradition, we are told that prophets foreshadowed the imminent destruction of the Temple if the Jews did not change their behavior. Unfortunately, they didn't listen.
What I find significant about this fast is that it makes us look further back in the chain of events. We are not supposed to eat, but it is more than that. Think about Yom Kippur – we set aside the attention we would give to our physical needs to focus on our spiritual needs. We repent and promise to change ourselves and our behavior. The point of today's fast is not primarily to evoke grief and mourning, but to recall our own deeds. We are encouraged to be mindful of our actions and the chain of events that could occur because of these decisions. We also reflect on those behaviors of our ancestors as a guide to change our ways before it is too late. It is as much about remembering our past as it is about changing our future.
In the last week, the devastating images and news of the tornadoes from Arkansas through Kentucky have been a reminder. I cannot help but wonder how climate change and our societal carbon footprint are enabling some of the more recent super-storms. Those images make me think back to the tornadoes that devastated our own community right here in Dayton. There was one story that stood out among the others – the individuals who were working at the candle factory in Dayton, who asked to leave, to find a safer spot, when the tornado warnings went off and were allegedly threated with being fired if they left. It is hard to imagine feeling so trapped, so stuck, so vulnerable, that one would have to choose to risk their own life to keep their livelihood. For me, that is a bigger call to action to protect not just our earth, but also all people who dwell upon it. The Biblical rationale for us protecting the most vulnerable in our community (the widows, orphans, poor, resident aliens, etc.) is that we were once slaves in Egypt and know what it was like. We have a higher capacity for empathy and sympathy based on our own experience. There are so many who are vulnerable in our days due to inequity based on intrinsic parts of identity (race, sexuality, gender, and more). The tornadoes are devastating in and of themselves, and they highlight even more devastating parts of our society. The siege on Jerusalem was devastating, and in hindsight, it was indicative of more to come. If we can listen to the warnings, we can change.
So whether you are fasting or not during the daylight hours today, may it be a day of reflection, a day to consider your own behavior, and a day to use our past to change the future. In addition to prayer and fasting, we can also acknowledge the tragedies of our days, the things that we are doing now that could be part of the beginning of larger chain of disaster. We can begin to heal ourselves and our world. If you’d like to contribute to the tornado victims, you might join the Jewish Federation of Louisville’s efforts in partnership with the American Red Cross.
I pray for strength, healing and comfort for all the victims of the tornadoes and their families, for our earth, for all its inhabitants. I pray that we hear the call of this day, and every day. Borrowing from the words of Cantor Leon Sher in his famous song Heal Us Now, “We pray for healing of the body. We pray for healing of the soul. For strength of flesh and mind and spirit. We pray to once again be whole… We pray for healing of our people. We pray for healing of the land. And peace for every race and nation; every child, every woman, every man.