Av: Bring Some Peace on to Us and to the World

We’re a week into the heavy month of Av, the month where a number of tragedies befell the Jewish people, the most central of which is the destruction of both Temples on the ninth of Av.  In preparation for this, “The Three Weeks” leading up to Av 9, or “Tisha B’Av” are a time marked by limited celebration (no concerts, for instance), and it gets ramped up in “The Nine Days”, the first nine days of the month, where we do not eat meat or drink wine (except on Shabbat), some men do not shave, and we are to turn our hearts toward Jewish unit and bringing tikkun repair.  Tisha B’Av itself is a day of fasting and reciting kinot, or liturgical lamentations.

Few things are without debate in Jewish history in practice.  But this much is clear-cut – the Second Temple was destroyed because Jews could not get along with each other.  “Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because of sinat chinam, senseless hatred of one Jew for another.” (Talmud: Yoma 9b)

The popularly held solution is that we need ahavat chinam, abundant love for fellow Jews. But this isn’t so simple when the hatred, or scorn, disapproval, or rejection comes from a place that seems to make sense!  Until I moved to Israel I did not understand how diverse the Jewish people really is.  Though few in number, we divide into much more than the widely noted Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements.

Splinter groups, factions, followers of this rabbi and that.  Throw politics into the mix and oy va voy, fire!  There are Jewish residents who don’t believe in the State of Israel and refuse to serve in the army, Jewish mothers whose sons died in order to protect a safe home for the Jewish people; those who reject the State on the grounds that it isn’t governed fully by Jewish Law, and those who think it’s a big enough sacrifice in the name of religion that public buses don’t run on Shabbat and holidays; there are ultra-Orthodox men who do not work so that they can study Torah all day, sending their wives (who are also often raising many children) into the workforce and/or receiving government assistance in order to live, and there are fellow Jews who believe that the Jewish way is to study Torah and work, arguing that to choose to live on handouts is not only a rejection of Torah but an unnecessary drain on society at large.

All of the groups of people described above strongly identify themselves as Jews and strongly believe that following a different path bodes destruction for the Jewish people.  It’s not just civil disagreement, but hatred that I hear pouring from the mouths of one group about the other.

At a Tisha B’Av gathering at the Jerusalem Cinematheque last year, there was a panel discussion on how different segments of Jews might be able to open dialogue.  Though Israel is the heart of the Jewish people and the focal point for ingathering of the exiles, this panel made me realize how infrequently I actually see Jews of all backgrounds in the same place, working toward a united goal.  Instead, we remain divided by neighborhood, occupation, yeshiva, dress code, hangouts, etc.

dove with olive branchI surely don’t have a solution, but particularly during this month, I try to understand the severity of the problem.  I’d like to focus on a subtle way that this is underscored, in a passage that Jews of most denominations are familiar with:

עושה שלום במרומיו.  הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל ישראל וימרו אמן.

Bring peace into our midst.  He will create peace for us and all of Israel.  And we say amen.

This is said three times daily at the end of the Shemonah Esrei, or the Amidah pray said traditionally three times daily.  It’s also sung in Jewish day schools and sleep away camps in a “Kumbayah”-type melody.

And as I wrestled with Judaism anew in my early twenties, it used to bother me.  “Why are we praying only for peace to Israel, Jews?  Isn’t that a bit elitist?  Exclusionary?  What about world peace, or Israeli-Arab peace?”

I asked this recently at the Shabbat table, following Birkat HaMazon, the prayer after a meal which includes this line too, and my father-in-law provided an answer that speaks to the theme of the month of Av.  He explained that it’s only until we resolve all of the internal Jewish conflicts that Jews can go on to create peace amongst other nations, can have the full strength to fulfill our mission of creating tikkun, or repair in the world.  In other words, we need to clean up our side of the street before we worry about other messes.

There is wisdom to this, for its known that when a person is sick, she has difficulty caring for others.  It’s not selfish to preserve one’s personal health!  Furthermore, the laws of Tzedakkah or charity dictate that we give to our families first, then our local communities, and then larger communities, and so on.  It’s not elitist or inappropriate to put that which is closest to you first.

For this month at least, focusing on the common bonds among the Jewish people seems a large enough goal.  May you have a safe and meaningful fast or day of reflection!


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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