Erev Tisha B’Av: I Blew It

As much as I love Maine, I really do hope to make Israel my permanent home someday.  As such, I try to follow not only the news, but various aliyah information sites, forums, etc.  that keep me current on day-to-day life in Israel.

On one such forum, an announcement was posted:  a certain well-respected rabbi from the U.S. would be visiting Israel, and giving a series of lectures.  Underneath the announcement, someone had replied with a single, terse comment:  “I’ll come hear him when he makes aliyah.”

This rather snide remark really disturbed me.  It touched so many (personal) buttons.  When you make aliyah, it’s a big deal.  You feel like you are part of Greater Destiny (and you are!), and by golly, now that you’ve finally made it, you just simply cannot understand why everyone else in the Diaspora can’t make that commitment too!  And why aren’t more Americans rabbis jumping on the aliyah bandwagon; why are they talking the talk (if they talk about it at all) but not walking the walk?

I know that feeling, because I once felt that way myself . . . until . . . we couldn’t live in Israel anymore.  We returned to the U.S. after 5 1/2 years of living in Israel, feeling sad and ashamed that it just didn’t work out for us.  The reasons for our failure are irrelevant for the purpose of this blog-post.  But it also gave us an insight that we didn’t have before.  We realized that there are many reasons that it may not be possible for someone to live in Israel, and we simply do not see or know the huge multitude of factors in another person’s life that may inhibit someone from making aliyah right now or staying in Israel.  We dare not judge.  And yes, that includes not judging rabbis of Diaspora congregations who don’t personally hop on the next Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah flight to Israel.     Despite the fact that for whatever reason they cannot make aliyah within a certain time frame (and also may not wish to share the reason for that impediment), they can still be a tremendous influence and catalyst in encouraging members of their congregation to make aliyah.

So I replied, expressing my dismay at the original post’s comment.  Oh, I thought about ignoring it:  but this was the honor of a truly good man – the rabbi! – –  that was besmirched.  I could not let it go!

Of course a flurry of comments escalated in response to mine.  And I got more and more upset, the more I read and the more I thought about it.  And boy, did I think about it – I was consumed with thinking about it.  I was putting all sorts of negative energy into thinking about it, and a lot of energy was being drained from my very soul.

And that’s when I stopped.  I realized, it doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong.  If I was really worried about the honor of the rabbi, how might I have framed my comment differently so the writer of the original comment would not have been so defensive?  Perhaps her comment was inappropriate – but mine only added fuel to her fire.  In doing so, she got angry , I got angry; now there is machlokes at worst and ill will and discomfort at best.  And the timing!  Now we’re in the Nine Days, commemorating the destruction of our Holy Temple; not because we Jews were bad or evil people, but because we simply couldn’t get along.  Shame on me!

Should I have just let her comment go, without response?

I don’t think so, but, I could have framed my response differently.  Instead, I should have written only, “Wow, all of you are so fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Rabbi X speak in Jerusalem!”

I should not have expressed my distaste for her original comment; instead I should have focused solely on the positive aspects of the rabbi’s good works.

Look at the cost of a verbal misstep!  It has the potential not only to destroy relationships – it can destroy worlds!  Is it not ironic that here I am, living in the remote Maine woods far away from a Jewish community, and I still managed to get into a disagreement with another Jew, someone who I have never even personally met?!

So . . . I am truly sorry I misspoke.  Too often passion  – – no matter how well-meaning – – gets us into trouble because we act first, and think second.  It is the reason we continue to observe Tisha B’Av and the destruction of our Temple, instead of celebrating its rebirth.  We repeat the cycle of machlokes ad infinitum; we prove time and again that we are our own worst enemy.

I hope to use the remaining period of the Nine Days to reflect on this, so that my aveirah (sin) of sinas chinam and squabbling can be proactively transformed into an act of ahavas chinam (love given with generous spirit).

May we merit Redemption through our positive actions, so that next year Tisha B’Av will be celebrated as a Yom Tov (joyous holiday) in Yerushalayim HaB’nuyah.

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