Death, mourning, loss and hope

D’var Torah
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
9 Av 5776 // August 12, 2016

Death is a knock on a door,
an old stranger you never knew who arrives out of no where,
an acquaintance-turned-friend;
but as polite as you are,
you tell him: “I wish I had never met you.”
But he never leaves.

Death is a portal,
an opening,
a strange gateway into an unknown place,
a somber look,
where the light at the end of the tunnel
seems to continually diminish rather than increase.

Death is their time,
the time of our ancestors,
the time of their judgement,
the day of Tisha B’av,
the holiday of loss, mourning and longing,
of ancient scouts spying the land,
of ancient dreams destroyed brick-by-brick,
of yet another Temple crumbled to the ground,
of loss of culture, a way of life,
of loss of the very centre of gravity,
the very centre of our world, shifted.
The day of Tisha B’av,
a day of past inquisitions and not-so-long-ago pogroms,
a day of death,
where their day becomes our day,
their suffering ours,
as if time has not passed for thousands of years,
despite the differences around us,
despite the miles tonight between Jerusalem and Stowe,
today is our day to behold and recycle history and lament.

Death is that cry within that draws itself out
that turns from wail to echo
that reverberates
in a chamber that never ceases to echo back on itself once it begins.
When years turn into
five thousand,
from the first lech lecha, go forth, to be a blessing;
yet no one told us that along the way towards blessing,
the path would be riddled with curses too:
curses from without, as with anti-semetism, past or present,
may we be spared harm;
and curses too from within,
as in baseless hatred for and among our own people.
For this is why the Temple was destroyed:
sinat chinam, free-flowing hatred,
of which not 2000 years have passed and I can still feel it in the air,
certainly the air

Death is the cry and wail
after the curse and after the next curse and the next one,
where even tonight’s Shabbat is diminished somehow,
for this 9th day of this month of Av — Tisha B’av —
happens to fall on Shabbat, tonight.
Shabbat and lament, joy and sorrow,
a juxtaposition too great to hold,
whose lament chant and fast gets pushed off until tomorrow night,
but whose taste still lingers in the palette
this Shabbat,
where certain mourning customs are required,
where private mourning is practiced,
even on this joyous day;
whose taste lingers in the palette
perhaps as with every other day,
for curses can often be hard to contain into one

For our curse it too great to wait for tomorrow,
see these words of Eichah/Lamentations:
“See, O LORD, and behold, How abject I have become!…
Look about and see: Is there any agony like mine,
Which was dealt out to me…?” (Lam. 1:11-12)

Yet, though the taste lingers,
it is a taste of something old,
and there is still something new that is, to be, will be.
This is where we long, this is why we long,
this is how we have longed for generations,
to find that simple, but elusive redemption,
in our morning prayers each day:
כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִּוִּינוּ כָּל הַיּוֹם וּמְצַפִּים לִישׁוּעָה
For your salvation, we yearn for every day, waiting for to be saved.
So too on the eve of Pesach:
Hashana Haba’a Birushalayim, hab’nuyah.
Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.

The taste of death is actually that of life,
for we are left longing for not what once was,
but for what we once could imagine in our hearts:
we seek a complete redemption,
a total renewal of life and justice, truth and reconciliation.

The rabbis say that the Moshiach will be born on the day of Tisha B’av.
Yes!!! Moshiach is on her way,
moshiach, moshiach, moshiach, ay yay….
of which I hate to translate into “The Messiah”,
for that will conjure up all kinds of images unknown to our people.
May Moshiach be born speedily and soon in our day,
yes, our day, as in…

We know how to pick ourselves up from the rubble,
as with other oppressed people,
as with those who from out of the rubble,
kicking and fighting our way
beyond the piles of broken stone,
with resilient hearts,
fighting on, struggling on, Yisrael,
our namesake as much as those who keep wrestling on,
we claim the lily pad in the swamp as our own,
the beauty of birth of a grandchild,
birthed on the bodies of thousands — millions — dead;
we claim our place among the place of others,
rising up, leaning in,
nothing can stop us but our own baseless hatred,
but we ain’t gonna have none of that.

This is our fight, among those historically oppressed,
to fight for those still oppressed to their death,
to create the world we wish to see in the world,
by being that world,
dreaming that world,
freeing that world,
fighting tooth and nail for that world,
with every gentle bone in our body,
as if we were ourselves, each of us,
the baby born, Moshiach,
crying our way into the world,
for we cannot wait for that baby to grow,
we wish to see
an era without prejudice,
without oppression for us or others,
without baseless hatred,

May this world be born speedily and soon, in our day, today,
seeing ourselves in the hope of the child born,
ready to cry and lament and still pick ourselves up from the rubble
and fight for a more, just, world,
this Shabbat, this Tisha B’av.