Message from Dan Sztrajt, Assistant Principal (Jewish Life) – August 2019

Let Us Search for a Meaningful Month of Av

This Sunday the Jewish world will commemorate the calamities of Tisha B’Av. The entire month of Av has become somewhat synonymous with Jewish tragedy. From the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem to the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the Middle Ages, all the way through to the outbreak of World War One and the approval of the Final Solution of the Shoah, this month has many grim connotations.

The sages teach us that many tragedies, but specifically the destruction of the Second Temple, occurred as a result of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred between people. This was a time in Judaism when our strict adherence to religious obligation or our desire to put down others to lift ourselves up, was so great that we forgot our mission, to be a light unto the nations and repair the world through mitzvot.

Our subsequent two-thousand-year exile forced a sense of humility upon our now stateless Jewish community. Not only did our religious practice fundamentally change with our expulsion, but so too did our perception of fairness and inequity in this world. It is somewhat easier to identify injustice when one is the victim.

For many, Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning and sorrow, a day to fast and a day to abstain from earthly pleasures. Yet this day, and in fact the entire month of Av, can also act as a reminder. If these tragedies are a result of baseless hatred, that is hatred for really no good reason, perhaps the way to prevent such tragedies in the future is through acts of baseless love, performing acts of kindness for no reason and with no expectation of reward.

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur only six weeks away we can use the month of Av as a practical demonstration of doing good in this world. The month of Av should become our time to go beyond our usual expectations of chessed (kindness) and tzdekah (charity). While we could simply decide to increase our usual pledge through the month of Av when that next fundraiser calls our mobile, an act of baseless love requires greater input on our part. To be truly meaningful, it demands human to human contact. If we have been waiting for that opportunity to teach our kids about gratefulness, maybe the month of Av is the time for our family to volunteer at a soup kitchen or with Meals on Wheels.

The real lesson of the month of Av is that if we can spread the message of baseless love, we could live in a world free from tragedy. But like all great feats it must start with a single act.

The Book of Lamentations which we read on Tish B’Av, says, “Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Eternal One.” (3:40)

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