Sometimes our tradition makes clear to us that there is an intersection between the actions of the Jewish people and the events that befall them. Most often, these can be seen in the biblical or prophetic descriptions of reward or punishment, of transgression and result. The inference of these events is to do more mitzvot or fewer averot. There is much there to delve into, but I will leave it for our religious and spiritual guides to do so. Instead, I want to look at the intersection of our history, our people's actions, and implications for us, here and now. This weekend we culminate the three weeks and within them the nine days leading up the ninth of Av, the day we are told both of our Temples fell, Beitar was destroyed ending the Bar Kochba rebellion, the first crusade was proclaimed, the expulsion from Spain began, and more calamities, up to the present day.
Eight years ago, as I observed Tisha B'Av during the 2014 Gaza War, I wrote the following: "The second temple was destroyed, we are told, because of sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Maybe, just maybe, this Tisha B'Av we, the Jewish people, turned a corner. I've never seen such unity and love in my life, and from what I hear from soldiers, citizens, Jews of all backgrounds, they have never seen it either. We have to hold onto this with all our strength, well after the guns have fallen silent and the rockets have ceased. We are never more powerful than when we are One... We have rediscovered what it truly means to be a nation - unfettered by borders and boundaries, unabashed in standing up for each other, unstinting in giving and in sacrifice. May it be so, and may this be the last Tisha B'Av we ever observe in mourning."
Perhaps back then I was overly optimistic. Much has happened since, and real, sustained unity is still slipping through our hands, though sometimes we can touch it. But it has prompted me to take another look at the language we use to describe the failure of our ancestors. Our tradition uses the word "chinam" to describe the hatred that permeated society in 1st century Judea. We often translate it as 'baseless', but we might also describe it as 'free' or 'without considered cost'. I believe that we can learn something very relevant to our generation. We may find rationales for our dislikes. We may find justification for our divisive thoughts and actions. But have we considered the cost of it all, what acting in ways that perpetuate division accomplishes? And, far more important, have we considered the alternative, what could be accomplished by acting with love and unity despite our real differences? These are the thoughts that animate me as we approach Tisha B'Av, the observance among our traditions that most clearly illustrates to me our responsibilities to one another, as a people, and what we should aspire to.