Sunday, August 10, 2008

The meek shall inherit the land...

...and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Psalms 37:11

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Psalms 137:5,6

Today marks the 1,937th anniversary of the destruction of the 2nd Temple (amongst several other Jewish nightmares) as well as the 1,874th anniversary of destruction of Betar and the last Jewish army to exist for approximately 1,800 years. Whatever remaining Jewish survivors were cast out of Judea to the far reaches of the Earth and our people entered the era of the great Diaspora.

Since the nation was born at the foot of Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago, no single event in Jewish history has had as much of an influence on Jewish culture and attitudes as the destruction of the 2nd Temple. As our ancestors watched the very Temple that they dedicated as a house of God burn at the hands of the Roman horde, something fundamentally changed in the Jewish psyche. The religious implications of a God allowing, or even worse, causing its house to be annihilated at the hands of a nation that literally stood against the very essence of the Biblical teachings and commandments that served as the backbone of divine worship, must have boggled the minds of the sages and leaders of the time.

But also important to consider, were the political implications. As the story goes, three years into the Great Revolt of Judea, the Romans had finally re-conquered the vast majority of the roiling province. Jerusalem was surrounded on all sides by Roman legions and the Jews in the city were fighting amongst themselves. Rabbis and wise men who felt the situation was hopeless and spoke of surrender were overruled or in some cases even killed by Zealots. Adding to the chaos, these same extremists destroyed the city's food supplies to force Jerusalem's citizens into a final showdown with the Roman army. As anyone who is sitting in mourning today knows, this fight did not go as planned for the Zealots and the Temple was destroyed.

The two responses to this disaster were as follows:

Religiously - the Jews sinned, became corrupt and were punished for it by God as they had been time and time again.

Politically - the wise decision would have been to negotiate with the Romans once the situation was deemed hopeless...or better yet not to have instigated a revolt against the strongest military the world had ever seen.

The failed rebellion of Bar-Kochba some 62 years later only served to validate these responses. And from then on until very recently, official Jewish policy was essentially to "blend in" with the countries that adopted the exiles and not to do anything that could be perceived as "causing trouble." Whereas the Bible describes a nation of "stiff-necked" (stubborn) people, in the Diaspora Jews are expressly forbidden from rebelling in any way against their adopted countries and must hope that their rulers will not oppress them excessively. Jewish self-defense and self-determination was a privilege that was to be buried with the martyrs of Judea - only to be resurrected by the true Messiah.

And so, over in the ensuing decades, centuries and millenia we endured the following:

- The rebuilding of Jerusalem as the pagan city, Aelia Capitolina in the year 133
- The First Crusade (and subsequent massacres of tens of thousands of Jews) beginning in the year 1095
- The Expulsion of Jews from England in the year 1290
- The Spanish Inquisition in the year 1492
- The first World War in the year 1914
- The Final Solution being ordered by Hitler, in the year 1941 which of course led to
- The order being given to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto in the year 1942


This day. The 9th of Av.

And it has stuck in our consciousness all the way through the last 1,937 years. All through the calamities, the pogroms, the expulsions and the holocausts. The synagogue-burnings and the grave desecrations and the Anti-Semitism. And we have survived through the years not by fighting back but by sitting and waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver us from this eternal punishment we have endured. This punishment that we as a people decided that we deserved for nearly 2,000 years.

And it can all be traced back to this one day in history. This one day that continues to haunt us year after year. This one day that serves a reminder of why we gave up on our right to self-defense until very recently. This one day of mourning for the millions upon millions of Jews who were burned at the stake or gassed and cremated or thrown out of their adoptive homes time and time and time and time again. This one day of mourning for not only the destruction of our Temple, capital and country...but for the crushing of our will to decide our own fate.

This is the reason I have not eaten nor drank anything for the past 24 hours. This is the reason I mourn today as my ancestors have done for generations. This one day.

Because on all other days of the year...

We are meek no more.


Jeff said...

Great introspective and inspiring blog!