Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Devarim 5776

In the days leading up to the observance of Tish’ah B’Av, which begins with the conclusion of Shabbat, the online conversation about its relevance in our times got heated. Some Jews wrote why they aren’t fasting this year; others defended the continued mourning rituals of the day. Some Jews expressed a desire for a restored Temple in Jerusalem; others shuddered at the very thought of a third Temple.
 
Behind these heated exchanges is a fundamental question: can one mourn effectively for something one didn’t personally lose? If the desire for such a response is there, what are the symbolic actions one takes to express a sense of loss when one doesn’t actually relate to what was lost?
 
Consider some of the ritual expressions of mourning the destruction of the Temple in traditional Jewish circles. For example, Jews have left a corner of the homes they built unfinished. Women were discouraged from wearing complete sets of jewelry. Grooms were to put ash on their foreheads. And, of course, we know the traditional origins of breaking a glass at a wedding. These are all what Erica Brown calls “rituals of emptiness at a time of abundance” (In The Narrow Places, p. 98)
 
On Shabbat morning, we will look at these rituals that are meant to raise our awareness of a painful absence–the Temple. But I have one last question: is it possible that absence can be even more powerful than presence?
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
 
Rabbi David Wise