By Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel
By Rabbi Jill Cozen-Harel
Tisha B’Av begins this Saturday night.
I think that I started fasting on Tisha B’Av during the summer that I went to Kutz Camp – between my junior and senior years of high school. I don’t remember, but I doubt that I’d even heard of the holiday before that summer. I also don’t remember if the day itself fell while I was at Kutz or slightly afterwards; I had left the session a bit early to join some peers from San Diego on a Black-Jewish dialogue trip that began in the south and continued up the east coast, which was transformational in a host of other ways.
However, I do remember being pulled by the idea of collective sadness and loss. I remember trying to put myself in the shoes of those people living during 586 BCE or 70 CE and I’d imagine feelings of displacement, hopelessness intermingled with a glimmer of home, fear, and anger. Mostly, though, I imagine feeling sad. I can’t imagine what the Temple might have meant to me if I were living in those times and I can’t imagine wanting to recreate a Temple of that sort, but I can imagine loss. I know what sorrow feels like. I know that I am lucky to be living as a Jewish person – and a rabbi – in a time and a place without that same sense of abandonment, loss, and lamentation. I have no idea what such a communal experience of sorrow might have felt like, but that is what Tisha B’Av is for me. That’s why I fast. I do it to connect to my people’s history in a visceral way that I might not otherwise be able to do – in solidarity with those ancestors who, in utter shock and grief, went to the waters of Babylon and wept.
Our calendar around this time of year is powerful for me, and as I have been doing pastoral counseling work in a hospital, I find it all the more meaningful. We inch up to Tisha B’Av with the three weeks leaving up to it, beginning with the 17th of Tammuz, when we are traditionally taught that the walls of Jerusalem were breached before the destruction of the Temple. We are also taught that this is the day on which Moses broke the first set of tablets, as he descended Mt. Sinai and saw the Israelites with the Golden Calf. I am less concerned with the historicity of all this or with the centrality of the Temple than I am with the built-in tenuousness of these weeks. The Shabbat leading up to Tisha B’Av is known as Shabbat Hazon; the haftarah reading is Isaiah 1:1-127, in which we hear first about the people’s transgressions and then about the notion that there is hope for reconciliation if they stop doing even and focus on good. Had Tisha B’Av appeared completely out of nowhere each year without any warning, it might be all the harder to emotionally or collectively connect to this sense of suffering, lamenting, and loss. But in these three weeks, even if I think about it for just a few minutes on one or two days, it’s out there. In chaplaincy terms, we refer to these three weeks as a period of anticipatory grief.
There’s something cathartic about ritual and I find that to be true here too. When we transpose some of our mourning rituals onto our collective mourning, it becomes more real. It’s not about any one thing – not the fasting, not the somber melody with which we chant eicha (Lamentations), not the custom of sitting on low stools. It’s the experience. I am not encouraging anyone to take on any of these, but perhaps to simply be aware of the day and its sense of loss and longing for wholeness.
I have stood at the Kotel countless times, visited the Davidson Center on each Israel trip that I’ve staffed to experience multimedia simulations of the Temple, and stared at the Second Temple Model in Jerusalem. I know that it was magnificent. I know that I would have stood in awe at the space i I had been there before 70 CE. I know that my relationship to God and to Jewish community would have probably been remarkably different had I lived in that period. But here I am in 2012. I wrestle but I believe that I have an obligation to be in relationship with the Jewish world from the time when the Temple stood. Even though Judaism has been transformed so much since then, we are still standing on the shoulders of that time.
And after Tisha B’Av, our calendar continues in this period of mourning. The next Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, which offers some comfort in the midst of the emotional wreckage that Tisha B’Av brings. We read Isaiah 40: 1-26, beginning with nachamu, nachamu ami- be comforted, be comforted, my people…this is the first of seven weekly haftarah readings that deal with consolation starting the week after Tisha B’Av through Rosh HaShanah.
May we all feel sadness and acknowledge the losses in our personal lives and our collective story. And may God then comfort us and carry us forward.
By Rabbi Jill Cozen Harel
At the end of Shabbat, we taste wine, smell sweet spices, see the glimmer of light from the havdalah candle shining on our fingernails, and then experience that moment of separation when we hear the fizzle of the havdalah candle as it extinguishes itself in the wine.
There’s something about that liminal space of havdalah that I love. We separate the kodesh from the chol, the holy from the usual, and yet it’s not that simple. It’s always my hope that I can bring some of Shabbat into the other six days of the week, whether that’s a nap, services, amazing meals with friends, or relishing a quiet hour to read. It’s easier to think about that transition as a thick black line, but more often than not, it’s a dotted line. We bring aspects of the rest of the week into Shabbat and we hope to take some of Shabbat into the coming week with us. Perhaps it’s that intermingling that is the holiest.
Shabbat is often on my mind. Either it just happened or it’s coming up. This week, I caught myself saying “Shabbat Shalom” to someone on Wednesday, which was arguably too early, but nonetheless brought both me and the person I was speaking with into a deeper awareness that Shabbat was indeed approaching. On Friday, as I was saying goodbye to some colleagues, one of them nonchalantly said “Shabbat Shalom” to me and almost instantaneously, I replied “Shabbat Shalom.” Then I heard another colleague say “good yuntif” and I stopped in my tracks. Wait. Was there a holiday coming up that I somehow missed? Did I mishear him?
I turned around. Gut Yuntif? (Yiddish for ‘Good holiday’) “Yeah, Pride.” Of course. Not necessarily a Jewish holiday in terms of our liturgical calendar but absolutely a San Francisco holiday and a time that’s marked in different ways by many Jewish communities as well. “Right, sorry, it took me a minute. I couldn’t think of the holiday that you were referring to but I didn’t have the right context. Gut yuntif. Oh, and chodesh tov!” This past Thursday, we began the month of Tammuz. Pride weekend as a Jewish holiday? Definitely another one of those intermingling moments. It’s not the holy and the profane, but it is the Jewish and the secular. He could have said “Happy Pride weekend,” which is definitely heard in the streets on San Francisco, but he didn’t. By using Jewish rhetoric, he was transforming this weekend of acceptance and celebration into something that is wholly Jewish. Language, for me, has that extra power.
The root of the word for holiness, kedushah, is kuf.daled.shin. It literally means separation, but I find that holiness also lies in tying together ideas or people that would otherwise be separate and finding the commonality between them.
That’s what happened in this little interchange.
Rosh Chodesh – the new month. A few days ago, we transitioned from the month of Sivan to the month of Tammuz, each with its own holidays. Each Rosh Chodesh, that marking of the new month, is also a check-in for me. Where am I this month in comparison to where I was last month? What have I accomplished and what do I still hope to accomplish? What new relationships have I cultivated? What about last month do I hope to release and let go? What beautiful parts of the last month would I like to carry with me? Another in-between; another liminal moment.
And lastly, the transition from one parasha (weekly Torah portion) to the next. Traditionally, we read the week’s parasha on Shabbat morning and then at Shabbat afternoon services, we read a preview of the following week’s parasha. The transition from one week’s parasha to the next happens right there. Shabbat afternoon. So on Sunday, today, we have said goodbye to Korach and are looking at Chukat. In parashat Chukat, both Miriam and Aaron die. After Miriam dies, the Israelite community suddenly finds themselves without water. Rashi, an 11th century commentator, explains that we learn from this that during the Israelites’ forty years in the desert, they had a well which followed them along their journey because of Miriam. In that time of transition, not only did they need to cope with losing Miriam’s presence but they also had to address their new need for water. Perhaps only then did they realize that the well which satiated them throughout these years was connected to Miriam. In my current hospital chaplaincy work, I find that as a patient approaches the end of his or her life, that time is often wrought with grief, loss, and sadness, but also with new connections and realizations about the impact that each person had on one another. Amidst the chaos of the hospital, there can bekedusha,holiness. Holiness isn’t always joy; it isn’t always easy. But it is deep and true and connected.
May we find holiness in the transitional and liminal moments that we encounter this week.
Shavua tov. Gut yontif. Chag sameach.
Rabbi Jill Cozen Harel is a chaplain resident at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.