While summertime brings thoughts of free time, vacations, trips and fun, for a three week period in Jewish tradition, roughly from mid July to mid August, it is a time of significant mourning that culminates on Tisha B’Av, which was observed on Saturday night, August 12.
Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples (586 BCE and 70CE, respectively), which signaled the end of Jewish autonomy and the beginning of our 2000 year exile.
The question can be asked that if this event happened so long ago, and we are no longer in exile, why are we commemorating it? A better question would be, what happened to us that we experienced such destruction? A simple answer would be that the invading armies of Babylonia and Rome were such overwhelming forces that our ancestors were helpless to repel them. That would be a true answer, but not the complete answer. Our tradition teaches that the reason the invading armies were able to conquer our ancestors was due to the sin of sinat chinam, or baseless or gratuitous hatred. This is hatred without a real cause.
TodaySinat chinamis evident in social media and on the street, where threats and acts of violence are being carried out by men who really do believe that some “other” is dangerous, insidious, and needs to be removed. There have been 252 mass shootings in the US alone in 2019. Hundreds of people were targeted because they were LGBT, Hispanic, African-American, Jewish, or Moslem. As a result of public statements the shooter thought he had permission to kill LGBT people, Hispanics, African-Americans, Jews, and Moslems. The assassinated included men and women, children, elderly, even infants in their mother’s arms. This is sinat chinamunfolding before our very eyes. The problem is not with the “other” guy. There is no “other” guy- there is only us. We will begin to heal from sinat chinamwhen we understand that there is only “us”. We have the tool of ahavat chinam- extending baseless love upon those that we meet, judging them through the lens of care and concern, and giving our treasure to causes that support our ideals.
Tradition provides us guidance on this as well by giving us the holiday of Tu B’Av, (the 15th of Av), known for being a joyful day of matchmaking. It always occurs the week after Tisha B’Av, and is a definite indication that we are to anticipate and prepare for joy, even in the midst of grief. Since we have made our world as it is today, we have the power to remake it in a better image of our best selves.
The choice is ours to decide.