Tisha B’Av begins tomorrow night, and Jews all over the world will be fasting, reading the book of Lamentations, and thinking about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem that took place almost two thousand years ago.
But Tisha B’Av shouldn’t just be a commemoration of events that happened hundreds of years ago. Contemporary Jews have experienced plenty of major traumas, events that rocked the Jewish community, and changed the way we practice Judaism. Most recently, the raid on the AgriProcessors plant in Iowa, though certainly not as spiritually damaging as the destructions of the Temple, has had serious reverberations around the Jewish world. It has affected what we buy and serve and eat, and how we think about our treatment of our colleagues and those who work around us. It has changed our relationships with the world, both humiliating us — as the poor behavior of our brethren is exposed to the world — and forcing us to shape up and raise the standards we have for ourselves and those we support. Ancient Jews brought sacrifices to the Temple: animals killed in the name of God. But the sacrifices were not enough. Prophets warned us that our behavior was as important as the sacrifices, and when we didn’t learn, the opportunity to bring sacrifices was taken away. Here we are, more than a thousand years on, and somehow we’ve fixated on kosher meat, and not on our own behavior. Maybe this experience, as difficult and upsetting as it is, will serve to remind us about what’s really important, and will reconfigure our priorities.