So I’ve been in Israel a little over two weeks now. Due to an unpredictable set of circumstances I’ve decided to study in a Yeshiva for 3 months. The dorms are a little rough, the learning in constant, and the summer heat is sweltering. But the view’s not bad.
A few days after arriving, Ryan, one of the other students in my program wanted to go to the Kotel to daven Shachris. We were joined by one other student as we took the bus from Har Nof, transferred at the Central Bus Station to the Light Rail, and within minutes were walking up to the Old City. But as we approached Jaffa Gate we noticed something odd.
A crowd had amassed outside the entrance as Police had stopped letting people in. After waiting for about 30 minutes, we realized something serious had happened. Then Ryan picked up a news story on his phone. A shooting on the Temple Mount. It struck me as no coincidence that we had just started the period in the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks.
If you’re unfamiliar, these three weeks are a time of mourning that remembers the sieging of Jerusalem by the Romans during the 2nd Temple period. We refrain from hair cuts, swimming for pleasure, and music. It all starts with the minor fast, on the 17th of Tammuz. Then, the mourning gets kicked up a notch for the final 9 days where bathing is limited and we refrain from meat and wine. It all culminates on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, the fast day known as Tisha B’Av.
Throughout history, this has been a very difficult time for the Jews. But for me, those have always been legends, stories. Yes they are historically documented, but that doesn’t mean it feels real. That was until 2014 when three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, where kidnapped and killed, starting the Gaza War. Over the following month, Gaza would fire rockets into Israel on a daily basis provoking an IDF response known as Operation Protective Edge on July 17th. The three weeks started that year on July 14th. Then, according to Wikipedia,
“On 3 August, IDF pulled most of its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip … On 5 August Israel announced that it had arrested Hossam Kawasmeh … suspected him of having organized the killing of the three teenagers.”
Tisha B’Av was on August 5th that year. After that, tensions significantly calmed as cease fires were enacted and though there were some clashes, there was nothing on the scale of what had been happing during the previous weeks.
The whole conflict’s eerie time frame gave me a new appreciation for these Three Weeks. So when Ryan read the news story that day at Jaffa Gate, it gave me a bit of a chill. If you’ve been following the news, you know that tensions once again have flared up. First with the Israel adding higher security to the entrance to the Temple Mount inciting protests by Muslims. Then yesterday, when Israel conceded to pressure and removed the metal detectors and security cameras, the response was further rioting.
I’m not bringing this up to comment or condemn any particular behavior. This isn’t the place for that. All I am calling attention to is the auspicious timing.
Perspective and Perception
Sure, I could write this all off as coincidence. Or even that because I happen to have a religious perspective that I’m fitting the events into my own narrative. Some could easily argue that perspective dictates perception and perception creates your reality. So I’m willing to admit that I am choosing to adopt this view point. But rather than see that as a reason to disregard the events, I’m choosing to see a meaning in them. And it’s that very ability to choose perspective that set the tragedy of Tisha B’Av into motion in the first place.
Tisha B’Av finds its roots in the story of the Meraglim found in Parsha Shelach. The Jews are about to enter the land of Israel, but decide to first send in 12 spies (the Meraglim) to scout out the land. When the 12 Mergalim return, 10 of them say the land is bad, everyone freaks out and because of the Jews’ lack of faith, God condemns the current generation to never enter the land. This day was the first Tisha B’Av. Though it is told in Shelach, the story is recounted by Moses in this week’s parsha, Devarim.
“But you did not wish to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of Hashem, your God. And you slandered in your tents and said, “Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.” (Devarim 1:26-27)
The thing that should stick out to you in the quote is the line “Because of Hashem’s hatred of us…” How could the Jewish people possibly believe through 10 plages, the splitting of the sea, the gift of the manna, the protection of the clouds, and most of all, the giving of the Torah that Hashem could have anything other than love for his chosen people?
Rashi comment, “Yet He loved you but you hated Him. As the popular saying says, ‘That which is in your heart about your friend is what you think is in his heart about you.'” The Jews hated God? That’s a bold statement and what Rashi means by that is a discussion for another time. But it is this hatred that will plague the Jews until today.
The generation of the Meraglim lost the right to enter Eretz Yisrael while the generation that lost the 2nd Temple suffered their fate because of Sinas Chinam aka baseless hatred for each other. The problem of Sinas Chiman between every Jews not only exists to this very day, but is the very thing keeping us from rebuilding the 3rd Temple.
However, just as the perspective of the Jews outside Israel chose to perceive the miracles of God as acts of hatred, so to do we choose to see the acts of our fellow Jews as hateful. Not because their acts are rude or hateful, but because deep down, for petty and baseless reasons, we hate each other. So then we interpret our fellow Jews’ actions as reason to continue to hate. It’s only when we change our perspective from hate to love, that things will change.
How do we do that? Not so simple. But the tools to start are to train ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt, look on people favorably, and if by some chance we do come across a difficult interaction, making the decision to see such interaction as an opportunity for benefit and growth of character. It’s from these perspectives that we’ll finally break the cycle of Tisha B’Av and end the exile.
This post is dedicated in the merit of Bayla Bas Mordechai.
May her neshma have an aliyah.