At the end of a Jewish wedding, we break a glass and all yell “mazel tov!” Of all the Jewish practices that have made it into mainstream media, this one tops the charts. People love that moment. It is dramatic. It is exciting for the newly-wedded to give a boisterous stomp at the end of a powerful ceremony. And it cues the whole crowd to burst into celebration. Perhaps less known, however, is why we do it. In the midst of a moving ritual filled with songs and blessings about overflowing gladness, hope, and commitment, breaking a glass is a moment of remembering the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem – the First Temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and Second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans. These events were filled with mass killing, brutal torture, and the exile of the Israelites/early Jews from our homeland. Why would we interrupt the joy of a wedding with such tragedy? Can’t we just be happy for a little while without dragging our persecution and suffering into the mix?
Add to this picture that we have just marked Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av – Sunday, July 26th), the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which commemorates the destruction of both Temples as well as mourning other Jewish tragedies that have fallen on this dark day. It is a day of fasting and mourning that comes as the culmination of a period of mourning known at the Three Weeks, a period in which weddings and other joyous celebrations are prohibited. So here again, in the midst of glorious summer weather, vacation time, and at the height of wedding season for the wider world, Jewish practice turns our attention to tragedy and communal loss. It is hard to imagine what Jewish life was like when the Temple existed. All of Jewish life and practice was focused there. It stood as the locus of human-Divine encounter. It was the centre of devotion, practice, and communal unity. Following the Roman destruction, two thousand years of Jewish exile from the Land of Israel began.
Marking and mourning collective exile and brokenness puts us in touch with communal loss as well as the resilience of the Jewish people to survive and thrive – a mysterious and powerful persistence that I cannot account for but want to stand in awe of and never take for granted. This is a month of paying attention to historic Jewish exile as well as the experiences of brokenness and exile in our world today and in the personal experiences of dislocation, grief, and distance we all encounter at times in our lives.
Confronting these challenging experiences in the midst of summer or in the heightened joy of a Jewish wedding enables us to balance tragedy with the resilience and hopefulness that surround us in those moments. We can be deliberate about drinking in joy and vitality so we can consciously face dislocation and homelessness and carry that vitality into the brokenness – in our history, in the world, in our lives – that need our awareness and responsiveness.
The experience of exile is also part of a larger arc that takes us from here into the High Holy Days just two months from now. As Rabbi Alan Lew so beautifully teaches in his book This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation this period of mourning in the middle of the summer is directly connected to the High Holy Day season. We are already preparing. We are already journeying from exile to coming home.
He writes, “This dance that begins on Tisha b’Av and ends on Sukkot … stands for the journey the soul is always on. It is a map, drawn by the soul, of the journey it must take, the journey it is already taking, … one of self-discovery, spiritual discipline, self-forgiveness, and spiritual evolution. It is the snapshot the Jewish people pull out every autumn of the journey all human beings must make across this world: the journey from Tisha b’Av to Sukkot, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, from birth to death and back to renewal again. Seeing yourself in this snapshot will help you chart the course of your own spiritual evolution. Every soul needs to express itself. Every heart needs to crack itself open. Every one of us needs to move from anger to healing, from denial to consciousness, from boredom to renewal. These needs did not arise yesterday. They are among the most ancient of human yearnings, and they are fully expressed in the pageantry and ritual of the Days of Awe, in the great journey we make between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur … It became clear that this was a process that never ended, that rather it stretched out to the infinite horizon … The business of transformation was going on all the time. It never stopped. The two-month period in question was merely a time when we focused on it, when we gave form to something invisible that lay dormant yet was possible to awaken at every moment of our lives.”
This 60 day arc from Tisha b’Av to Simchat Torah is a journey for us to take together. Let’s learn from the past and give insightful, compassionate shape to the future. Let’s take this month to explore the experiences of exile and loss so we can help each other find our way home.
LEARNING SESSION WITH RABBI MIRIAM TO PREPARE FOR THE HIGH HOLY DAYS
Scapegoats, Confessions & Recipe for Repair
Tuesday September 8, 2015
7:00 – 9:00 pm
Eastminster – room TBA
How do we repair the mistakes we’ve made? How do we stop repeating the same reactive or harmful behaviour and make choices that enhance our lives and the lives of others?
In ancient Israel, repair and repentance involved a High Priest, confession, animal sacrifice, and sending a goat filled with our sins into the wilderness (the origin of the word scapegoat). In the present, we no longer transfer our sins onto animals, but confession has been essential to the process of repair and change. What is vidui/confession in Judaism? What role does it play in High Holy Day services and in our individual and collective transformation? What can we learn from ancient wisdom re-imagined for growth and change in the present? Join us for personal reflection, Jewish learning, and discussion to discover new meaning in the High Holy Days this year.