Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tisha Ba'Av 2005- Golden Oldie- revisited

The Construct of Destruction

What does a building that was destroyed over 2,000 years ago have anything to do with me?  Why should I care?  What am I supposed to feel bad about it?  How am I supposed to internalize whatever message is meant for me?  These questions plague me every year and as the years go by I have developed some thoughts on the subject. 
The story is told of a Hasidic Rabbi who was found dancing vigorously on Tisha Ba'Av.  When asked why he was so happy he responded by saying that he was ecstatic over being able to fulfill the mitzvah of aveilus, mourning, over the destruction of the Temple.  Any rational person would say that this sounds nuts... I would like to offer an explanation to this puzzling story. 
We all know that God created this world and therefore everything in this world is a manifestation of God.  Human beings, trees, animals, air, water etc… everything is a manifestation of God.  Everything that I come into contact with is a manifestation of God in this world.  If somebody loves me, it is God showing me love, if someone hurts me, it is God showing me pain etc… So far so good?
We all know that the essence of God is Love.  All there is in this world is a manifestation of God’s love for His creations.  Namely, God’s love for His people, for the Jewish people.  So, everything I come into contact with is a manifestation of God in this world and therefore anything I come into contact with is a manifestation of God’s love for me.  Whether it is good or bad, happy or sad, difficult or easy, it doesn’t make a difference what it is; it is all a sign from God that he loves me. 
Of course it is not easy to tell how every situation I am in is about God’s infinite love for me- that is really the essence of life.  So a story to illustrate:  A wealthy man offers a baker top dollar to make the very purest bread possible- from scratch.  Being that he is paying top dollar, he demands to observe the baker every step of the way.  So the next morning the rich man and the baker set off on a journey to find the most fertile land which they find and buy.  The rich man, thrilled at how beautiful the lush green grass is, invites all his friends to see his acquisition.  Upon arriving with his guests, he finds the baker hard at work destroying the entire field with picks, hoes and shovels.  “What do you think you are doing to my beautiful land,” he yells at the baker.  The baker reassures the wealthy man, “Trust me and relax,” he replies.  The very next day the baker and his grumpy employer set out looking for seeds.  After a few days of searching they find highest quality wheat seeds, the wealthy man insisting on paying for the most elite high quality, frost resistant organic wheat seeds.  The wealthy man already anxious after the land incident is skeptical to see how the baker will form bread from these seeds.  They arrange to meet at the plot of land the next day and upon arrival the wealthy man is greeted by the baker pouring his precious new investment all over the already destroyed ground.  “You idiot,” the rich man yells, “first you waste my money on destroying my land that you suggested I buy and now you destroy the most expensive seeds by throwing them on the group!  What do you think you are doing?”  “Stop whining,” replies the baker, “one day you will understand why all this destruction is necessary.”  And the story goes on; at each step the wealthy man sees destruction and whenever he sees something that looks good to him, the baker immediately destroys it.  He busts a capillary when the baker drowns his seeds in water.  He sulks for a year until he is able to take a little comfort in the perfectly tall stalks of wheat he sees.  His anger is unbearable when the baker cuts every last stalk down.  The most pristine white flower jerks the rich man back into his happy state.  Then further confusing and enraging the man again when his pristine flour is drowned yet again in water and thrown into a burning hot oven.  At the end, of course, the man is presented with the purest, freshest, tastiest bread he’s ever tasted- you could only imagine how much he will savor that bread!. 

There is no purpose to destruction alone.  It always exists to serve a higher purpose, a purpose that ultimately purifies us.  A purpose that ultimately shows us God’s furiously intoxicating love for each and every one of us.  Yes, we experience heartbreak, pain and suffering.  We experience stress, difficulties, challenges and even evil.  At times we get some nechoma by seeing Hashem’s rays of love trickling into our live between the hardships.  But it is only when we are aware of the ultimate purpose of it can we recognize the hardships for what they are.  We don’t need to live our lives with the roller coaster of the wealthy ignorant man in this story.  We know the goal of all the destruction.  Let us live it.

My plan this year- I will let the pain of what is lacking in my life seep into me and feel the hurt and send it directly up to God through my prayers.  No, I won’t get depressed about my shortcomings and negativities, I know what they are, God knows what they are, I know I am working with every fiber in my body to overcome and grow, and God knows that as well.  I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel close enough to God.  Not that I am not close enough to God, I am. I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel the closeness.  I am going to mourn the fact that I don’t feel that God loves me as much as he really does.  I am going to mourn that I don’t talk to God enough.  Can you imagine?  God loves me so much and he gives me a day to think about how much he loves me and that I am oblivious to it.  I am going to mourn my not being so utterly in love with God, my not living every second in total euphoria and obsession with God.  On Tisha Ba’Av I relearn that all the pain of my shortcoming, suffering, depression, frustration and anxiety all come from God.  I am reminded that these characteristics are not evident that God dislikes me in anyway but exactly the opposite- it is God’s love for me. I focus on destruction and negativity and realize that it is an opportunity for me to see the depths of evil as Love.  After a Tisha B’av like that who won’t dance?  After spending a day searching my heart and my world looking at what is lacking in my life and knowing that how much God loves me and how oblivious I am to it, how can I not dance?

Personal Destruction

The Maharal and many other great Torah leaders explain a passage written by the Rabbis thousands of years ago.  The passage says (beginning of Yoma), “He who does not see the rebuilding of the Temple in his days, it is as if the destruction of the Temple took place in his days.”  They explain that if you don’t know how to mourn the destruction of the Temple mourn the areas in your life that you can improve, the areas of your life that are lacking.  Here is another anecdote: 
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots was perfectly made and never leaked. The other pot had a crack in it and by the time the water bearer reached his master's house it had leaked much of it's water and was only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.  After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?" "I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts," the pot said.  The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."  Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.  The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house." 

See, the destruction of the Temple is the catalyst for the Jews being in exile, the catalyst for every Jew to feel (and only feel, because it is not true) as if he or she is disconnected from God.  The catalyst for every Jew to feel sadness, pain and hurt.  The catalyst for all negativities in this world.  Rebbe Nachman from Breslov writes that people should always be happy and only devote an hour a day to feeling bad about their faults and negativities.  Tisha B’av is a sad time, no doubt.  But just like a person is supposed to feel bad for his or her negativities only once a day, only once a year is a person allowed to feel bad about his or her negativities.  Tisha B’av is the preparation for Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the time of year that we are closest to Hashem.  The time of year when our connection to God comes to full bloom.
Rebbe Nachman writes that depression is the worst sin a person can commit.  “He who commits suicide does so only once, but he who is depressed does so (commits suicide) thousands and thousands of times a day”.  Each of us has our own unique flaws. We are all cracked pots (crack-pots lol). But if we will allow it, God will use our flaws to grace his table. In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste. Don't be afraid of your flaws. Acknowledge them, and you too can be the cause of beauty. Know that in our weakness we find our strength. 

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