Tisha B’Av is coming up. It’s a day to be sad, to ask ‘what happened’, to think about tragedies. The Temples were destroyed on that day. Many Reform Jews don’t mark Tisha B’Av. They say that while the loss of the Temples was hard, it was necessary to build the Jewish society we have today; one in which Judaism does not include animal sacrifice, strict religious hierarchies, or reliance on place. Others do commemorate it, for it is tragic, and many other tragedies (such as the expulsion from Spain) have been tied to this day as well. We do. We fast and we read ‘Aikha’ (the best translation for that remains WTF, excuse the language, though most people know it as Lamentations.) We sit on the floor and we are miserable. We will, this year too.
That means I have to find a way of connecting to those Jews – the ones that had a Temple, a beautiful, clear-cut way to reach God, with a Holy of Holies, and gold vessels, and many rooms and all sorts of details. I have been studying the building of the Mishkan (not the Temple, but a precursor which gives us ideas) this year, so I still hear God’s instructions about curtain rings in my head. Then, someone destroyed it and it was gone. I find myself thinking about the fall of the Temple and matching it to the castles – the temples – in the air that I have built and that have fallen this year.
Those of us with faith, our castles in the air are temples. If God wills, we add. Relationship temples – “and then we’ll be together forever”, family temples – “holding my baby in my arms”, career temples – “and I’ll be the head of the institute”, security temples – “a nice house, and no mortgage” – we build them and then we decorate them. There are gilded vessels (“that’s me, up there, on the podium”) and many rooms with details, including those blessed curtain rings (“after I get married, we’ll need a house with 4 rooms, so we can have one for each of our 3 future children – no 5, my partner will need a studio…”). There is also a Holy of Holies where we can meet God, after proper preparation, not frequently but maybe once in a while. For me, the Holy of Holies in my life is the Divine peering out of another’s eyes. Sometimes, I can look at someone, be it partner or child, friend or student, and see God and know that our connection really does sanctify and bless the world. That spark is what makes everything worthwhile. It is what turns my castles into temples. I love that moment of connection.
And sometimes, the temple falls. Maybe it is destroyed by an enemy or by a careless army which didn’t even notice me, maybe I tore it down through my own sins and errors, maybe an act of God destroyed it. I try to deny it. “It can be patched,” I proclaim. I am the queen of fixes, of repairs. I can retake that test, we can work out that fight, I can reapply for that position – whatever it is, a bit of mortar here and there, some paint; if the Maccabees did it, why can’t I? Then Tisha B’Av comes, and I have to acknowledge that my beautiful temple is a pile of rubble with one forlorn wall standing. I have to see that it is unsalvageable, that there is no Holy of Holies here anymore for God seems to have left, that wild beasts wander through the plowed fields where once beautiful towers stood. That is the sadness of Tisha B’Av.
The work starts there. I need to do that acknowledgement, admit the grief, celebrate the memories without living in them, and find some way to go on. Maybe, like the Jews, I can reconceive my faith and learn to live in the community where I find myself. Maybe I can find God in other ways. Perhaps in time, I can again find the holiness in someone’s eyes, in a connection I make. For now, there is the heartbreak. It hurts. Over and over, year after year, we acknowledge the pain of broken temples – lost dreams, ended relationships (whether by death or distance,) missed opportunities, failed attempts.
That is a day that needs to be marked. On Tisha B’Av, I do my acceptance work, so that I can start the painful process of consolation and rebuilding that I will need to do through Elul to prepare for a New Year. I cry – a lot – and I let go. It’s all that is left to do.