BOOKS: BIBLICAL STUDIES (1500BC-AD70) / EARLY CHRISTIAN PRETERISM (AD50-1000) / FREE ONLINE BOOKS (AD1000-2008)
What time Ierusalem that Cittie faire, Was sieg'd and sackt by great Vespasians heire Canaan's Calamitie, Jerusalem's Misery ; The dolefull destruction of faire Ierusalem by Tytus, the Sonne of Vaspasian Emperour of Rome, in the yeare of Christ's Incarnation 74 (1598) Wherein is shewed the woonderfull miseries which God brought upon that Citty for sinne, being utterly over-throwne and destroyed, by Sword, pestilence and famine.
"The Destruction of the House"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Tisha Be’Av, the only sad day on the Jewish calendar, the day upon which we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, is soon upon us. And so we mark this Shabbat as the “Shabbat of Vision” (“Shabbat Chazon”), named for the first verses of the Haftarah in which Isaiah son of Amoz gives voice to a divine vision that loathes the contemporary reality. Isaiah, who lived more than one hundred years before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE, calls out against a community tremendously careful regarding ritual and wantonly careless regarding human morality. As Rabbi Ismar Schorsch writes, “without the latter God found the former utterly repugnant.”
Tradition tells us that the Second Holy Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, fell in 70 C.E. to the Romans because of Sinat Chinam, free-flowing hatred. This hatred, emblematic of the moral low the Jewish community had reached, led, in theological terms, to God abandoning the Temple and Jerusalem. Interpersonal hurt has serious ramifications, to which even Heaven is vulnerable.
The Lecha Dodi is full of references to this concept of Jerusalem's abandonment, and on the Friday night of Shabbat Chazon it is therefore traditional to sing Lecha Dodi to a mournful melody, atypical for both the joyous Shabbat and the stirring Lecha Dodi.
Some Jewish communities use
the tune of “Eli Tziyon,” a traditional dirge for Tisha Be’Av. But the
melody I’ve learned has no known origin. It manifests for one night and
disappears until the next year.
During my early years at
Ramah Nyack, Rabbi Stanley Bramnick traditionally led davenning on the
Friday night of Shabbat Chazon. Voiced with depth, the Lecha Dodi that would
pour from the front of shul that night somehow conveyed a pervasive sense of
absence. And when Rabbi Bramnick ended his tenure at Ramah, I nervously
began leading that davenning, using his tune for Lecha Dodi.
As the first time arrived for
me to begin Rabbi Bramnick’s Lecha Dodi, it took me a moment to remember how
it went. And once the melody began it became increasingly difficult to
continue through my tears. Something within that haunting melody pulled my
soul and made me cry like a young child.
There is something real in
that moment of sadness, something that should not be forgotten. Something
that defies words.
Perhaps crying comes closest.
Think back to a place you’ve
felt comfortable. Things are good in that place. The place nurtures you,
sustains you. For one day a year, Jews live the absence of that place. And
for us, that place is Jerusalem.
Perhaps the most incredible
part of this scheduled absence occurs if you stand in modern Jerusalem on
Tisha Be’av. An over-abundance of construction sites, vibrant and colorful
streets, and an eclectic collection of residents and tourists going about
their business surround you. There is hardly a feeling of desolation, of
absence, in the air of modern Jerusalem.
Hold onto that tension
between the destruction of Jerusalem remembered and the vibrancy of
Jerusalem lived as you read these words taken from the Lecha Dodi, written
by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in the mystical city of Tzfat around the year 1529:
“Sanctuary of the Ruler, royal city,
Arise from within the upheaval.
Too long you have sat in the valley of tears,
God will grant you
“Get up! Shake off the dust!
Dress in your robes of glory my people.
Through the son of Jesse the Bethelemite,
Draw near to my soul,
set her free!
”Wake up! Wake up!
For your light has arrived, rise up and shine!
Awaken! Awaken! Sing a song!
The Glory of God is
revealed upon you!”
These passionate words reveal
that very tension. Where there is an experience of upheaval, tears, dust,
and weariness, the Lecha Dodi promises Jerusalem imminent resurrection,
glory, and light. Perhaps as we today witness the rebirth of Jerusalem, the
Lecha Dodi reminds us of its darker, and perhaps hidden, past lives. While
there are moments when we wish God’s Glory would truly reveal itself and
complete the wholeness of Jerusalem and our world, true to the messianic
dreams of the Lecha Dodi, we know that we are far from the despair of the
And so, when we sing the
Lecha Dodi this Friday night, we can have two experiences. With eyes open we
can witness a thriving Jerusalem, but with eyes closed – and ears and heart
open – we might experience an ancient soul-wrenching hope for God’s return
Which message will the Lecha
Dodi deliver this Shabbat? It all depends, for me, on which tune is used.
The Midrash teaches that Jerusalem is the “belly-button of the world” (Breishit Rabbah 59:5). Though the image sometimes invites light-heartedness, Rabbi David Walk sees this statement as exemplifying the rabbis’ belief that “Jerusalem is where the umbilical cord between heaven and earth is found. Jerusalem is the physical interface with the divine.”
If you’ve breathed once in Jerusalem you already know.
But the fascinating part of all this for me is that I’ve never spent Tisha Be’Av in Israel. I’ve either arrived soon after or departed right before Tisha Be’av a few times, but have always experienced the day in the United States, so very far away.
Rabbi Bramnick’s Lecha Dodi brings me there in a heartbeat. It’s as if my body and Jerusalem develop a direct link, if only for a moment. And standing in my nurturing religious environment, with a direct lifeline to Jerusalem, I am that baby viscerally connected to my source. As God is called “Rachamim,” a word which can be translated as either “Merciful” or “Womblike,” perhaps a holy womblike environment is the best entry point to Tisha Be’Av.
What does Tisha Be’Av mean? It means that the Jewish umbilical cord is cut. It means that we’ve become detached from our source of nourishment. And for one unsettling day we experience spiritual hunger and the dependence of an infant.
If we are to understand Tisha Be’Av, we must let the day pull our souls together and remind us that our body’s blood flows through one beating heart whose very name scorches the lips.
Email PreteristArchive.com's Sole Developer and Curator, Todd Dennis
(todd @ preteristarchive.com)
Opened in 1996