General Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

The Destruction of the American Temple: A Spiritual View of Tisha B’Av

Each year, I find the Jewish holidays are a little different. It’s not that the holidays have changed, of course, but I have. This year, Tisha B’Av is speaking to me differently than it has in the past. (For a look at what I have thought about Tisha B’Av in the past, see  here or here).

Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a day of mourning and lamentation. It is a day that I often have trouble relating to, seeing as I don’t actually want to go back to a Judaism that is based around the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet this year, the sense of mourning  destruction is resonating with me.

I find myself feeling like there are a lot of us mourning a vision of our world that seems to have been destroyed. There was an optimism to American life and worldview that seems to have gone, and many of us are beginning to wonder if it will return. There is a sadness present, both in those searching for work, and those who are employed but remain fearful of what the future will bring.

We are facing an unknown future, as did the Jews following the destruction of the Temple. They didn’t know what it meant to be Jewish without a Temple in which to make sacrifices. We aren’t sure what it means to be  American without a limitless economic horizon stretched before us.

Yet Judaism transformed, and became something far more vibrant than it had been. And America also has the potential to be revitalized. It does, however, require a willingness to accept that the world is changed.

General spirituality

Celebration of Freedom, American Style

Today is July 4th, the day we, in the United States, celebrate being free (free as in speech, not free as in beer). Today marks 234 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, inaugurating the first modern democracy, and arguably, the first nation instituted by design rather than  by might.

The United States has never had a transfer of power that was other than peaceable and in accordance with our constitution. We may, at times, resent how the process has played out. We may have our doubts about the correctness of the Supreme Court decision which awarded the 2000 presidential election to G.W. Bush, but throughout, the process has worked. The transfer of power has always taken place peacefully, and has always taken place in accordance with the constitutionally prescribed process.

You may note that I’m talking a lot about the Constitution on a day devoted to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence sets out why a change was needed. The Constitution set up a better way to do things. The Declaration tears down, the Constitution builds up. In general, I find the Constitution to be the far more important text. But today, I ask you to go read the Declaration. Not just the first, vague paragraph, but the subsequent ones that lay out the specific grievances which caused the colonies to break away.

What I hope you noticed in your reading of the Declaration is that no matter what your political views, no matter your critiques of the current or past governments of the United States, no matter how unfairly, or inappropriately you believe the government to have acted, we are not subject to the sorts of injustices the founders were rebelling against. Two-hundred-and-thirty-four years later, we are free. Today is a day for giving thanks to those who came before us for their vision, their courage, and their willingness to risk their very lives to establish a free nation upon the Earth.

Happy Fourth of July.