Tish B’Av – A View From the Rubble

August 9, 2016


People don’t get along all of the time. We are often tired or stressed out and it can be hard to keep our cool when someone cuts us off on the highway during the commute, let their kids run amuck in the restaurant, or let their dog mark its territory on our front lawn.

As a Rabbi, part of my job is to help people see the big picture and to keep things in perspective. Much of my advocation involves living in the creative tension between many people’s differences, concerns and angst.  It often is communicated in anger or frustration.

People might be surprised to hear that clergy like therapists are at a significant risk of burnout from their work. There is even a specific term of psychological lingo – counter-transference – that describes the intense feelings that therapists and psychiatrists experience during their clinical work. I am sure that clergy experience the same. But I believe that due to social media, reality television, and divisive “news” sources, we are all susceptible to a unique version of this.  For me personally, the best antidote for addressing my own counter-transference reactions has become striving to find the good in each person, no matter how challenging the case may be.

Surprisingly this wasn’t a lesson that I learned in Seminary. Finding the good in each person was something I learned from the practice of Mussar. It has been as much a means of survival as it has been a lofty and altruistic goal.

A lovely story is told about Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, of blessed memory, who once saw a fellow Jew smoking a cigarette during Shabbat, something forbidden by Jewish law. Approaching the man, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak said, “You probably are smoking because you don’t know that it’s Shabbos?”

When the man told him that he was aware of which day it was, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak responded, “You probably didn’t know that it’s forbidden to smoke on Shabbos?”

When the man told him he was aware that smoking was forbidden on Shabbos, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak responded, “So…you probably are smoking because you think it is good for your health?”

When the man told him that he wasn’t smoking for health reasons, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak looked up to the Heavens and cried out, “God, see how beautiful and honest your people are! Even when they commit a sin, they don’t make it worse by lying about it!”

The mishna exhorts us to “judge everyone favorably” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:6). Kefa tells us to “Esteem others higher than yourself.”  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov of blessed memory wrote, “Even if your brother is a completely wicked person, one needs to search and to find in them a single thing that is not completely evil and in doing so will find goodness and the ability to judge your brother favorably,” (Likutei Moharan 1:282), and the great American father of self-help Dale Carnegie wrote, “Give every dog a good name to live up to.” By searching for the good in others and focusing on their positive traits, we will have a profound influence on the rest of the Jewish people and inspire them to be better human beings. I hope this this captures the essence of my call – trying to help my fellow human beings to reach their full potential. I think this is the call on each of our lives.

So please try to remind yourself that we are all created in the image of the divine.  At home and with our fellow Jews, we each have to remind ourselves that not only is everyone someone else’s son or daughter…everyone is my brother or sister!

The Three Weeks of Mourning – which began with the commemoration of national tragedy on the 17th of Tammuz and continuing through the 9thof Av – are a time for personal and national reflection as we remember the destruction of our Holy Temple. The Talmud (Yoma 9B) tells us that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinam – senseless hatred between Jews. If this is the case, then the rectification of this destruction must naturally require Ahavat Hinam – love between Jews. Certainly there is no better way to love one another than to look for the goodness in our fellow Jews and in doing so we will help them achieve their personal best.

In the daily prayers we pray for the restoration of the Temple along with the coming of the Messiah. I am not sure if this is literal or figurative, but as followers of Yeshua we recognize that he is our temple destroyed by our animus and resurrected by the love of Hashem. We acknowledge that he is rebuilding in us a Temple that exemplifies his life, his love, and his vision for the emerging world. We must not only pray then for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – we must also be physically engaged in rebuilding it by strengthening our relationships with each other.

For now we often view the world from the rubble that society has created.  But we choose to look at the vista of hope that God has given us in Yeshua the view is quite different.

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