Judaism: The 9th of Av: Remembering
ONLY THE LIVING CAN REMEMBER
On Tishah B’Av, remembering is the rule. Tragedies happened, and we have to remember them. Not just the destruction of the Temple, indeed both Temples, but the long procession of calamities that accompanied all the ages.
Every time of year has its historical memories; every day could well have been appointed as a national Yahrzeit; but Tishah B’Av brings all the catastrophes together. Maimonides says in his Hil’chot Evel (13:11-12) that one who does not remember and mourn for the calamities is a cruel character.
And yet one can overdo the mourning. After a bereavement there are stages in mourning, and by the end of the first year the mourner must pick him- or herself up and get back into life.
The real tragedy is when there is no-one to remember. I often wandered through the Jewish part of Rookwood Cemetery when I was a rabbi in Sydney, and I would sadly note how many people had no living relative to say Kaddish and keep the Yahrzeit.
This emphasises the value of Tishah B’Av, as the occasion for the whole Jewish people to remember and mourn for the martyrs of the generations. The martyrs can never be forgotten so long as our people remembers.
BRING US BACK
When the Torah is returned to the Ark we sing the words, Hashivenu HaShem elecha v'nashuvah: chaddesh yamenu k'kedem – "Bring us back to You, O Lord, and we shall return – renew our days as they were".
The words come from the end of M'gillat Echah (Lam. 5:21), which of course is read on Tishah B'Av. In Echah we have the prophet Jeremiah speaking on behalf of the people. They have lost their Temple and their land and they yearn to come back to God's city and House and to live a life without the enemy and the exile. A sentiment that completely fits in to the theme and mood of Echah – but what is it doing in the Siddur?
It is an assertion of our belief that Israel, the land, the people and the faith are all interwoven: if God brings us back to the land, then the faith and the Torah will flourish again.
We well know that the reality as we see it before our eyes is not yet complete, but there is already so much Torah in Israel that no-one can deny that we are on the road to the fulfilment of the hope of the ages. We bring the Torah back to the Ark and imply, "God, help us to bring the Torah to every corner of the Land of Israel".
We can also read into the words of Hashivenu the prayer that we may be enabled to bring the Torah to every corner of the Jewish people. There will be some who will always resist being mitzvah-observant, but let their non-observance at least be based on knowledge of what it is that they do not observe. If they choose not to believe, let them at least know what it is that they do not want to believe in.
KAMTZA & BAR KAMTZA
The Talmudic story (Gittin 55b/56a) is well known. Because of a mix-up between two men of similar name was the Temple laid waste, according to the sages. A host wanted Kamtza at his party but Bar Kamtza mistakenly received the invitation and was pushed out in the sight of the whole assemblage.
The Talmud says that God himself supported Bar Kamtza because He was shocked that one person could publicly embarrass another
The rabbis say that a society in which people failed to respect one another did not deserve to survive (Yoma 9b).