Transforming the Pain of Tisha B’Av to Active Responsibility
It is not enough to hope for redemption; we must be the catalyst for it.
On April 11, 1944, a young Anne Frank wrote in her diary:
Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly until now? It is God Who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows – it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.
Anne Frank was on to something. The Talmud asks: from where did Mount r Sinai derive its name? The Talmud suggests that Mount Sinai comes from Hebrew word “sinah” which means hatred, because the non-Jews’ hatred of the Jews descended upon that mountain when the Jewish people received the Torah there.
The Jewish people have been charged to be the moral conscience of the world, a mission they have not always succeeded at, but that nevertheless drew the ire, anger and hatred of so many. Torah demands a moral and ethical lifestyle, a life of service rather than of privilege, that has revolutionized the world. For two thousand years the Jews were bullied and persecuted simply because of their Jewishness and all that stands for.
After the Holocaust, the world gave the Jews a reprieve from their hatred, becoming instead beneficiaries of their pity. But looking at events around the world, perhaps the last 75 years were an aberration. We have witnessed the rise of antisemitism as the world reverts back to its ageless pattern and habit.
The Midrash (Eichah Rabbah 1) teaches that three prophets used the Hebrew term “eichah” – o how! Moses asks: "Eichah, how can I alone bear your troubles, your burden and your strife?" (Deuteronomy. 1:12)
In the Haftorah read on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Prophet Isaiah asks: "Eichah, how has the faithful city become like a prostitute?"
Lastly, Jeremiah begins the Book of Lamentations which is read on Tisha B’Av, "Eichah, how is it that Jerusalem is sitting in solitude! The city that was filled with people has become like a widow..."
Eicha – How? How is it that antisemitism persists? Why must they rise up against us in every generation?
On Tisha B’Av we will sit on the floor and wonder aloud, eicha? How could it be Jews have to fear for their lives yet again? Eicha – how could it be that today, with all the progress humanity has made, more than a quarter of the world is still holding antisemitic views?
It is not enough to cry out eicha, o how!; we must answer ayeka, where am I?
Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that there is fourth time the term eicha is used. When Adam and Eve fail to take responsibility after their fall in the Garden of Eden, God calls out to them and says ayeka, where are you? Ayeka is spelled with the same Hebrew letters as eicha. What’s the connection? Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that when we don’t answer the call of ayeka, when we don’t take personal responsibility for our problems and blame others, we will ultimately find ourselves asking eicha, how could it be?
We can ask eicha, how could all of these terrible things be, and cry out in pain. But our job is to make sure we can answer the call of ayeka, where are you? Are you taking responsibility? We may not be able to fully understand why antisemitism exists, but we can and must remain vigilant in calling it out, confronting it and fighting it. We must remain strong in standing up for Jews everywhere. We must confront evil and do all we can to defeat it.
And we must do all that we can to take personal responsibility to fulfill the Jewish mission to bring Godliness into the world.
Antisemitism will not come to an end by assimilating and retreating. It will come to an end when we can positively answer the question that the Talmud tells us each one of us will be asked when we meet our Maker: did you long for the redemption and did you personally take responsibility to do all that you can to bring the redemption? Did you truly feel the pain of exile and feel the anguish of the Jewish condition in the world? Do you truly and sincerely care? Did you anxiously await every day to herald in an era of peace and harmony, an end to antisemitism and suffering?
It is not enough to hope for redemption; we must be the catalyst for it. It is not enough to cry out eicha, o how!; we must answer ayeka, where am I? What am I doing to rectify the situation?
If we want to get up off the floor and end the mourning, if we want to finally end antisemitism, it is up to us to do what is necessary to heal our people, to repair the world and to love one another.