The following is a post I put up last year, which I feel has not lost any of its resonance. In the meantime, a book has come out on the varied theological responses to the First Churban which sounds interesting (In Hebrew, sorry). She seems to deal with the issues mentioned here in passing in some depth. Also, check out this beautiful rendition of “Eli Zion”. Tzom Kal. – Avi
The Great Abandonment, or Why I mourn on Tisha B’Av
It’s not the state of Jerusalem today, which puts the lie to “charev veshamem”. More Jews live there and more Torah is learned than at any time in its history. It’s not shi’abud malchuyot – we are no more enslaved to superpowers than any other small country – all of whom are independent. It’s not the temple, at least not in the way most people understand. The destruction of “etzim ve’avanim” is merely the external manifestation of something far more unsettling – the feeling of abandonment of Am Yisra’el by God.
Anyone who reads Eicha will notice that, in addition to hair-raising descriptions of the depradations the Jews suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, there is a sense of abandonment. If you pay close attention, you can almost hear Yirmiyahu crying desperately to the Heavens for some sign, some assurance that he’s there, that he hears us, that it will be OK in the end. Where once there was the confident, certain word of God is now only the desperate, doubt-ridden plea of the Man of Faith, who longs for His word.
In every generation since the great abandonment until modern times, Jews have cried out to the Heavens to understand Why; only to be met with silence. Things became even worse in Modern times, as the silence has allowed doubt and denial to turn the overwhelming majority of Jews away from Him. Those that remain have nothing to answer when asked “Where is God”. Rather than being able to say “why, right here”, we only hem and haw and squirm. Without God’s presence, it is exponentially harder to defend against the constant intellectual and academic charge that “what you see is what there is” and that all of Judaism is man-made, no revelation required. Every generation of ORTHODOX Jews undergoes a constant, uphill struggle to keep the faith. All these things can be traced back to the Great Abandonment.
I know all the explanations. Hester Panim. We’re not children, we’re grown-ups and we should not have to be coddled with constant appearances. It’s a nisayon; there will be great rewards for those who hold up to it etc etc. Many will berate me for even suggesting the idea.
I don’t want to hear it. I can’t hear it. Not today. For just as one can not, should not try to console one whose meto is mutal lefanav, so I cannot be consoled on the day I am reminded of the day God shut me and the rest of us out. THAT is the main, most horrible tragedy – the destruction of the temple is a mere technicality, a logical end to this process. As the whole purpose of the Mikdash was “veshachanti betocham”, once that’s gone, the Temple is meaningless.
I say this out of the same despair mixed with hope one finds in Eichah. Mine is not a tefila sedura but a desperate, pained cry for God’s presence, for him to reveal himself. I can only hope that he’ll listen.