From the Ashes of our Broken Houses

[For the Ner Shalom Malakh, August 1, 2009]

We are now sitting squarely in the month of Av, a mournful month that launches our trajectory through the High Holy Days. On the ninth day of Av, which fell this week, we mourn the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians. And the Second Temple by the Romans. And scores of other calamities that have befallen the Jews and which occurred -- or which had such heft that they feel as if they occurred -- on that same day of the year.

Our Days of Awe begin right here, with the destruction of Beyt Hamikdash -- the House of Holiness, our house. We bring our awareness to the ways that our own houses are always in the process of crumbling. We live lives full of inevitable change. We lose jobs, homes, loved ones. Our bodies change. Our health comes into question. Many of our deepest hopes go unfulfilled. Every moment is, in some part, a loss, a leave-taking of the previous moment's expectations. Every moment sends us into a new exile, if we dare to look at it. Tisha B'Av is an invitation to look.

But we are not defined solely by our tragedies. Every moment provides opportunity for rebirth and rebuilding. The Jewish calendar offers this model to us. In Av we experience loss and we grieve. In Elul we run our fingers through the ashes of our crumbled houses, searching for a new understanding of who we are when the externals are taken away. At Rosh Hashanah we see the possibility of new life out of the ashes. For ten more days we do the hard spiritual work of teshuvah -- the process of penitence and forgiveness. We gain insight, depth, dignity. And, at last, on Sukkot we build our first new shelters, shaky perhaps, but green and beautiful.

In our earthly lives, loss, grief, introspection and rebirth do not occur on a schedule; they do not roll out in a linear fashion. We are, in some way, engaged in all points of this process at every moment. Every day is Tisha B'Av, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The Jewish calendar simply uses those landmarks to draw our attention to the process we all go through and to sketch us a path of healing.

We are born into a Creation that is still unfolding, and we only have a finite chance to live in it. Loss and rebirth are cyclical, natural, inevitable. In fact, these are all Days of Awe.