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Kol HaChadoshot

What's news and 'nu' in the Beth David community

January 2020

From the Rabbi

Tisha B’Av (ninth day of the month of Av) is a day of world-wide Jewish mourning in commemoration of the fall of both Holy Temples that stood in ancient Jerusalem. According to rabbinic tradition, the seeds for these two tragedies were planted centuries earlier when the fledgling Israelite nation cried a night of tears in the Sinai Desert as ten spies who scouted the land of Canaan returned to the people with a prediction that their dream of capturing their homeland would not succeed. Yet, later rabbinic sources cautiously predicted that the messiah of the final redemption was destined to be born on a future ninth day of Av. Despair and hope were intentionally interwoven.
     In the days of the second Holy Temple, the fate of the destiny of Torah as it was then understood and practiced weighed in the balance as Maccabees fought Hellenists for control of the minds and hearts of the Israelite people. The battles that were waged leading up to the victory we celebrate as Chanukah pit Jew against Jew as it also pit Israelite warriors against invading outsiders. The story records Kislev 25 as the day when the Holy Temple was recaptured, re-purified and rededicated. Was it coincidence or irony that rabbinic tradition had already identified Kislev 25 as the day in the Sinai Desert, about 1,000 years earlier, when the work of constructing the original Tabernacle (Mishkan) was completed? For assorted reasons, the Mishkan was not dedicated as functional until months later; but the project of construction and manufacture was declared basically complete on Kislev 25.
     These are but two examples of rabbinic efforts to bring calendar synchrony to chronologically distanced and sometimes disparate events. The purposes are many; yet the most obvious if not the most profound, is a mission to weave a spiritual tapestry that links the generations.
     May it be that what a contemporary generation practices in the name of continuity be observed and valued as being connected with what came before it.
     A recent event in Connecticut, not far from West Hartford, followed this exact model and created a moment worthy of contemplation - so poignant that, for a day, it captured the attention of the nation. On the foggy Saturday night of December 14, just over two weeks ago, the Newtown High School Nighthawks won the state high school football championship. A thirty-five-yard touchdown pass as regulation time expired secured Newtown’s first championship in twenty-seven years. What was lost to no one was that December 14 was the seventh anniversary of the massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School; there were players on the team who were survivors of that attack and there were players on the team who lost siblings in the attack. Clearly, the football game and the massacre could not be more different; but for the families in Newtown, the convergence of sadness and celebration brought memories and milestones together in an unexpected way. There had been some talk in Newtown about possibly not playing or trying to get the date moved. Reporters covering the game had been instructed in advance, win or lose, not to discuss the massacre with the players after the game. Now and forever, the two will share a date.
     Religion - as requested by God, as structured by sages and as practiced by the faithful - has always been intended to bridge the distance between Heaven and earth, support the emotional need of never feeling alone, and provide a methodology for living with questions the answers for which are elusive. For me, for now at least, Newtown is a reminder that dates make a difference. There is a reason why our medrashic tradition wants us to believe that moshiach will be born on Tisha B’Av. There is a reason why the Second Temple was rededicated on the same date that the project of building a Tabernacle was completed. Dates matter. They create connections. Dates give us reason to pause, and moments of pause provide opportunities for contemplation.
     In Judaism, our religious practice centers on the performance of mitzvot and the thoughtfulness that should accompany each. The deed of doing a mitzvah fosters righteousness. The accompanying contemplation fosters an awareness that can connect isolated moments.

Sat, February 22 2020 27 Shevat 5780