Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – D’varim

The 9th day of the Hebrew Calendar month of Av stands as one of the most dreaded ominous days in Jewish history. Tisha B’Av (the Hebrew way of saying it) saw the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. Throughout history, people seeking to rid the world of Jews chose this day on which to launch some horrific edict or attack. The list of tragedies includes the killing of over 10,000 Jews during the first month of the First Crusade. England (in 1290), France (in 1306), and Spain (in 1492) all expelled every Jew on this date. Germany entered World War I on Tisha B’Av (1914), causing a massive upheaval in European Jewry, which ultimately led to the Shoah. On Tisha B’Av, 1941, Commander Heinrich Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for “The Final Solution,” which took the lives of over 6 million Jews. On the same day, the following year, the NAZIs began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka after quelling the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The list goes on. It is a horrible date.

Well, it is a horrible date, sort of. With all the destruction, tradition holds out hope for our ultimate redemption on this day. The Jerusalem Talmud (tractate Berachot 2:4) tells us that the phoenix will rise from the ashes of the attempts to destroy us. On Tisha B’Av, we will welcome the birth of the Messianic Age. From torment comes forth redemption. As Maimonides wrote hundreds of years ago, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messianic Age.” It may not happen in my lifetime, but I am not allowed not to work helping the world merit the blessing of peace.

Reading the news each day, one struggles to imagine that peace can be real. While the rhetoric flying at each other is only painful and demeaning, growing numbers of people are open to meeting and engaging in new ways. The rabbis teach that it will be in the darkest of times that the brightest of lights will shine. Only when people can no longer withstand the agony that we place in each other’s hearts, can we find the courage, the love, and the empowerment to engage each other in dignity and respect. Tradition teaches, “In a world where no one behaves like a human, strive to be human.” People who never would have spoken to each other before now find themselves in meaningful engagement with a diverse world. Dr. King taught us that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We have to bring that love. At some point, we must realize that causing our neighbors to bury their children can only cause us both – devastation. I pray for a world of peace, but honestly, cannot yet imagine what it would feel like – waking to only good news; a world wherein people nurture, protect, feed, clothe and shelter each other. I know in my heart that I want it and am willing to work for it, and not completely knowing what to expect, I am more than ready to celebrate the fruits of that labor.

This week’s Torah portion opens the Book of Deuteronomy. As Moses prepares to part from his people and turns the reins over to Joshua, he still has a lot to say. He begins to retell the entire story of our journey from Mt. Sinai to the Jordan River and the forty years of wandering before bringing Israel back. The whole generation of “slaves” freed from bondage in Egypt is gone. A new generation, born into freedom stands at the Riverbank. Moses reminds Israel that despite their parents’ infidelity to God, God never wavered in love and support for the people. Making it through the journey’s wars, droughts, and everything else, they stood at the River Jordan. They stand prepared to cross into their “Promised Land.” I have to believe that these families who had wandered for 40 years, who only knew and understood wandering as their way of life, could not have imagined the impact of a “Promised Land.” Israel may not know what to expect, but they are ready to crossover.

We have a choice to make. We can turn back into the wilderness. We can stay lost in yesterday’s pain. We can wait for another eternity. We can wait for someone else to stand up and bring light. We can take a leap of faith and bring that light, ourselves. We are standing at the Riverbank. We see the blessings awaiting us. We have to cross the water, holding each other every step of the way. We stand at the brink of world order and disorder. We want blessings, and we want peace. Ultimately, the question we have to answer is quite simple, “How badly do we really want it?” Shabbat Shalom.