Destruction and Rebuilding this Tisha B’Av

On Tisha B’Av we mark the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. It was such a calamity for the Jewish people, as the Temple was central institution of the community at the time. Since then, we have mourned its loss with fasting and the recitation of the book of Lamentations, as well as adopting a general attitude of sadness.

While the Temple no longer exists, it still plays a central role in the Jewish religious imagination. We turn to face east during worship, marking our connection to that location and its spiritual energy. “The rebuilding of the Temple” becomes a metaphor for the act of redemption, and prayers for its restoration are meant to invoke the hope that all that was once lost will be returned.

And today when we mark Tisha B’Av we bring to mind the general idea of how important our communal institutions and centers are to us, and the brokenness of the Temple reminds us of the brokenness of our own society.

But sometimes, institutions need to be broken in order to come to a new place. Which is why the destruction of the Temple is ultimately bittersweet. For while the destruction of the Temple was tragic, the fact of the destruction brought about a new era of creativity and spiritual growth. It brought about the focus on text and interpretation, the creation of new ritual, an end to the hereditary hierarchy of leadership and the beginning of a new era. This era, the rabbinic era, is what developed the Judaism that we know. The development of the the Judaism we practice is because of, not despite, the destruction of the Temple.

So while we mourn the loss of our important institutions, I invite you too to think about those institutions you wouldn’t mind smashing. With the news out of Florida what comes to mind for me are the institutional racism we still carry within us, the culture of gun violence and unjust laws that favor one over the other and provide legal justification for behaving badly. These are institutions which should be destroyed.

On Tisha B’Av we mourn. But we also remember that out of the ashes of destruction can come something new and better–and sometimes destruction is what is necessary for a society to move forward.

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