Grief & Opportunity

The mourning associated with Tisha B'Av is also a call to action.

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Words--whose power we should think about on Tisha B'Av--can be tools as well as weapons, can build up as well as tear down. Think of ways you can be constructive. Soothe ruffled feathers. Take advantage of opportunities to counsel cooperation and mutual respect in communal settings, stressing common ground and common goals rather than differences. (And on the personal level, encourage your children so that they develop confidence in themselves, the ability to "conquer the land"--their own challenges--which the Israelites facing Canaan for the first time lacked.)

Rabbi Levi Yitzhkak of Berditchev, the Hasidic master, said that we cannot expect to achieve the "rebuilt Jerusalem" of our collective dream until we eliminate from among ourselves the destructive forces that devastated Jerusalem. All of them (idolatry, adultery, murder, hatred) represented turnings away from the Jewish way of life, as does ignorance, one of the most destructive forces we face in today's Jewish communal crisis.

The Chinese character for crisis consists of two symbols: one for danger, the other for opportunity. That combination sums up the history and meaning of Tisha B'Av. In past generations, emphasis was on the former, because the Jews continued to live in the wake of loss and the threat of persecution. So on Tisha B'Av they grieved over the destruction and passively hoped for the redemption.

Never before in history, because of the political and cultural environments in which they lived, could the Jews act on the opportunity; in response to the different threats we face, we can. While we still grieve for the loss of wasted possibilities and recognize the danger of not taking bold, positive steps, we do have the chance to bring redemption closer. It's an opportunity you don't want to miss.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.