Parshat Devarim

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“With their own hands, tenderhearted women have cooked their children; such became their fare, in the disaster of my poor people.” (Lamentations 4:10)

This coming Shabbat, Jewish communities around the world will observe Tisha B’Av. The fast was first instituted during the early rabbinic period to commemorate five specific calamities that had befallen the Jewish people. Subsequently, there have been an unbelievable amount of similar atrocities that have occurred either directly on the ninth of Av or close to the date.

Tisha B’Av has become a warehouse day for Jewish historical hardship, so much so that it is fair to wonder why the entire Jewish community doesn’t fast the way many do on Yom Kippur. Perhaps some don’t know or are intimidated by the thought of a summer fast. Some believe since we have a homeland in Israel, the need for fasting has been superseded by that reality. Many of the horrible times remembered on this day center around destruction in Israel, so it stands to reason that a modern state of Israel would negate any reasons for fasting. Or would she?

That verse from Lamentations is frightening. I try to imagine in my mind’s eye what it was that the author was seeing and thinking when it was written. Was this literally what he was watching – women cooking their children? Or is this is a metaphor for how dire their situation was when he wrote this painful reflection?

It really doesn’t matter. The truth is that in either case, what is described gives us a window into just how dark of a historical period the first exile was.

On a recent trip to Israel with the Krieger Schechter Day School, seeing a vibrant modern Israel was one of the great joys of my life. It’s almost tempting to say that now that we have a state of Israel, our great historical problems of victimhood and persecution are over.

But we know better. We know that even today we are not immune. Over the past year, anti-Semitic acts have increased here and abroad. We even witnessed a madman entering a synagogue on Shabbat and murdering 11 innocent Jewish souls. The situation has deteriorated so that Felix Klein, a German government official tasked with combating anti-Semitism, said it was unsafe for Jews to wear a kippah in public.

The modern state of Israel is the manifestation of thousands of years of our hope for a Jewish homeland, but she does not fix the world’s problems of anti-Semitism and bigotry. There are times when her very presence adds unnecessary fuel to the fire.

I think that we may need Tisha B’Av more today than ever before. We don’t fast now just to commemorate the historical hardships, we fast in recognition of the painful truth that even after all these years, they have not abated.

Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg is the senior rabbi at Chizuk Amuno Congregation & Schools.

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