By Rabbi Josh
4 Av 5775
This year Tisha b’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month, Av, begins on Saturday night, July 25, and concludes at dark on July 26. The exoteric idea of Tisha b’Av is to commemorate the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem, in 586 BCE and 70 CE, as well as other tragedies in Jewish history. As such, it is the day of deepest communal mourning on the Jewish calendar. Along with Yom Kippur, it is the only full 25 hour food/water fast. Yet, could this day actually be a holy day for the possibility of messianic consciousness? It’s not how we often think about it.
As many know, we have a provocative teaching from the Jerusalem Talmud that Tisha b’Av is the day of the birth of mashiach/the messiah. This moves me to think that while we have holy days for lots of other core concerns in Judaism--freedom, repairing our actions, Torah, light, abundance of harvest, Tisha b’Av is a holiday for mashiach.
What might this mean? It’s important to remember that we don’t need to be locked into thinking of mashiach as an individual person. Jewish history is littered with an immense amount of wasted time and dashed hopes which were pinned on individuals, (always men) who were thought to be mashiach. It’s time to drop that paradigm.
Instead, we can see mashiach as an archetype that each of us have within us. Reb Nachman of Breslov (who gave over some fantastic torah about mashiach) teaches that the way we participate in the mashiach archetype is to draw into ourselves the greatest degree of compassion (rachamim) that we possibly can. (See Likkutei Moharan 2). He envisions mashiach drawing this compassion down from the hidden-most recesses of Divinity. (For those who know Kabbalah, this is the level of arich anpin).
Further, traditional Jewish understandings of mashiach saw “him” as a king who would fight wars to return the Jewish people to their land. There’s more than a bit of violence to this traditional view. For Reb Nachman, instead of fighting any kind of literal war, mashiach’s main “weapon” is prayer. As my teacher Reb Miles Krassen put it, “the wars of mashiach are not real wars, but exertions in the power of prayer.” I have this beautiful image of the heart of mashiach filled with overflowing, pure compassion that is then offered and expressed as prayer.
Bringing this down to an everyday level, this idea doesn’t have to be dramatic. In my own davennen (prayer) this morning, my deepest prayer was to have compassion for my children and to not get angry at them when one of them ignores what I asked them to do for the third time. (It's been extra hard this week because I've been a solo parent.) It was a pretty basic prayer, but it felt real.
On this Tisha B’av, may we allow ourselves to feel some of the grief that everyone is carrying--especially in the face of the ongoing ecological destruction all around us--yet may we also realize we are each an integral part of the unfolding messianic process, and may we be inspired to play a conscious role in that process, drawing compassion from the deepest source we can access, and offering it up as heartfelt prayer. Amen.