“The Iran Deal and Tisha B’Av” by Lauren Shaps
Dear JWRP Chevra:
Welcome to the 400 new JWRP alumnae. This is our weekly shout out to all of you, keeping you in the loop and inspiring you with thoughts and wisdom. I do the intro and then Lauren Shaps shares beautiful insights from the parsha that you can read and share with others.
As many of you know, I just returned from one of the greatest trips we have ever had. Things ran so smoothly, the City Leaders were amazing, tour guides off the charts, every speaker incredible and the women felt that every day was the best day. In the air there was a strong sense that we were all living our purpose.
And what could be greater than that?
I want to recognize all of our partners out there, the 130 organizations who work tirelessly to recruit the women, choose their ideal groups, prepare them for the trip, provide us with all of the information we need, cover their own families in their absence, fly across the world, go eight days with little sleep, deal with everything from roommate issues to dehydration, answer a myriad of questions, counsel, hug, sing, dance … and all with a smile.
And then they return with their women and the journey really begins.
You are all angels. We love you and could not do it without you.
Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom.
The media is filled with a wide range of opinions regarding the deal with Iran. Many worry that, like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in 1938, this agreement sows the seeds of future disaster. Others see it as more benign, extending a hand to Iran, an invitation to join the peace-loving and responsible international community. I don’t pretend to have a clue as to where this agreement will take our world. But I worry. Iran has been a source of enormous instability in the Middle East. Its leaders deny the Holocaust happened, paint Jews in the vilest of terms and threaten the existence of Israel over and over.
What I find particularly unnerving is that after many delays, this deal was sealed during a highly significant period in the Jewish calendar (see: The Iran Deal and the Hebrew Calendar on Aish.com). Perhaps because it falls out in the summer or because it doesn’t involve food or fun, most Jews are not aware that Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, is this Saturday night and Sunday (deferred until after Shabbat).
On Tisha B’Av we recall the many tragic events that occurred on that day: the destruction of both the first and second Temples, the eviction of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the start of World War I, which historians see as the prelude to Hitler’s rise to power and ultimately the Holocaust. We prepare for Tisha B’Av with three weeks of diminished pleasure. We don’t hold weddings or listen to live music. The last nine days we avoid meat, chicken and wine, except on Shabbat. On Tisha B’Av itself, we fast and follow a number of practices symbolic of mourning. We gather in synagogues to read the Megilla (scroll) of Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah more than 2,000 years ago.
This Shabbat we will read Parashat Devarim, the first parsha in the fifth book of the Torah, which is also called Devarim (Deuteronomy). This book is different from the first four in that it contains Moses’s message to the Jewish people prior to his death, just before their entrance into the land of Israel after 40 years in the desert. Moses gives a public address reminding the fledgling nation of their errors and missteps, warning them of the pitfalls they will face and encouraging them to hold steadfast to their study and integration of Jewish values as taught in the Torah. Internalizing these values, he tells then, will give them the wisdom, the tools and the support of the Almighty to overcome the obstacles they will face upon settling the land of Israel.
At the beginning of his discourse, Moses recalls his great frustration. He tells the people that he complained, “Eichah, how can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?” (Deuteronomy 1:12). When the Torah reader reaches this verse, he changes the tune to the somber, haunting melody in which Eichah is read on Tisha B’Av. In Lamentations we read, “How (eichah) is it that she (Jerusalem) sits in solitude?” Moses feels so alone, Jerusalem alone. Eichah – how?
I was raised by parents who had absorbed the idealism of the 1960s, the attitude that we could change the world if we only tried hard enough. Our values at home seemed in conflict with the values of my peers in the Me Generation. Today we live in the era of the selfie. We struggle with the hard work of long-term commitment to relationships and to community. We want services available when we need them, but it is so easy and entertaining to be alone that we find it hard to disconnect from our technology to make the effort to build a connected community, a society that provides the things money can’t buy.
The Talmud tells us that it was because of sinat chinam (baseless, or free, hatred) that the Second Temple was destroyed. It is the seeds of hatred that left Moses feeling so alone. It was the petty hatred that people could not or would not rise above that led to the tragedy of Jerusalem destroyed and alone.
Much like the pettiness Moses bemoaned, we can be contentious. It is so much easier than putting our differences aside, communicating with respect and working together in a problem-solving way. We blame, criticize and quarrel. Our Sages understood that if we couldn’t rise above such baseless hatred, we would lurch from one tragedy to the next. One of the few occasions where the Torah uses the term lo tov (not good) is after the creation of Adam, when the G-d says “it is not good to be alone.”
There is nothing like an external enemy to create unity among the Jewish people. We saw that so clearly during last year’s Gaza War. With the threat of Iran lurking around the corner we will once again unite in solidarity. But we can do better, and the Torah gives us the tools we need. How can we counter senseless hatred? Through love that is not dependent on a cause. Through relationships that recognize that we are all human beings doing the best we can with the tools we have. Through acknowledging that we have more to unite us than to separate us. Through disagreeing on important issues with a fundamental base of respect because every human being is created in the image of G-d.
On Tisha B’Av we mourn collectively, as a community, united, together and not alone. Our history is full of tragedy and part of our growth as a nation comes from recognizing, commemorating and learning from these events. On Tisha B’Av we mourn for what could have been and what took place instead. Those tragedies are great big neon signs, messages from above, that something is seriously wrong with our world and the choices we have made. We can blame G-d and we can blame our enemies, but in doing so we short-change ourselves. We deny ourselves the opportunity to look within, to take responsibility, to change ourselves and, in doing so, to change the world.
The Talmud tells us, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit seeing her happiness” (Taanit 30b). May G-d protect us from Iran and may Jerusalem be rebuilt speedily and in our day. Have a meaningful fast.