History As An Artichoke: Reflections on The 9th of Av

Jul 28th, 2009 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Spiritual Growth
We do not refer to the 9th of Av as the Hebrew date on which both Temples were destroyed. We make lists: it was the date when the Children of Israel were sentenced to die out in the desert rather than enter the Promised Land. Beitar, the last stronghold of the Bar Kokhba rebellion was destroyed in 133C.E. Turnus Rufus plowed up the area of the Temple and its surroundings. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. (It wasn’t actually the 9th, but that’s a different story.) World War I began on Tisha B’Av.

It’s a long list and raises all sorts of dilemmas for the thinking person. Tisha B’Av forces us to confront the presence of evil in the world. We cannot revisit the Av stories without wondering how God can hide His face. We are urged to repent, but are not told what we must repair.

I often ask people who have just listened to a screaming cry for repentance, people who are careful in every aspect of their lives, for what they must repent. The answer is always the same: “Everything!”

Perhaps Dostoyevsky was right when he wrote: “If Stravogin believes, he does not think he believes. If he does not believe, he does not think he does not believe.” (The Possessed – The Devil)

I returned home after one of those tirades, (I would say; menticide) that moved people for a moment or two, but no more, because they did not know what they did and did not believe. The family, not I, was eating artichokes, and I had an epiphany as I watched them savor the multiple, prickly and densely superimposed layers: Tisha B’Av can be better understood as an artichoke.

What if, rather than compile lists of all the terrible things that happened on Tisha B’Av, we examined each tragedy as one prickly layer to help us uncover the deep core of our beliefs.

We renewed the covenant with God after the generation of the spies died out. We uncovered a layer, and were better prepared for the future.

The Men of the Great Assembly renewed Torah and its applications as we returned to Israel from Babylon and Persia, and began a period of fantastic creativity and possibility. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai saved Yavneh and her sages, and renewed the role of Torah in our lives after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Each layer, prickly and painful, allowed us to achieve new heights.

I hope and pray that we are consuming the final layer and we will know what we believe and what we do not. Then we will discover the luscious beauty of our faith in the center of all existence.

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