The Jerusalem Post
If we are to find our redemption, we must first find ourselves
In his introduction to Book of Genesis, the renowned 19th-century scholar Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the Netziv) notes that the book was also referred to by the prophets as the book of the yesharim, literally “the straight ones” – people with integrity. The explanation given is that the Book of Genesis is the story of our forefathers; they were people whose righteousness was specifically defined by how they interacted with others – even with people who thought and acted differently from them.
The reality is that there are people who claim to be pious and may even look the part of truly righteous people, but who are at times not people of integrity. We know that throughout history, and certainly in our contemporary world, there are those who think they are acting in the name of God when they speak and act out against others, but their very actions are the likes of those which brought about the destruction of the Temple, and prevent its rebuilding up to this very day. Indeed, the Netziv himself says that those people who claimed to be God-fearing and “religious” were the very ones responsible for that destruction.
These people may be ritually robotic but they lack derech eretz, treating others with love and respect. As the Netziv states, this is a basic definition of what it means to be a person of integrity.
Our world today is blessed with the reality that we have so much going for us, and plagued by the fact that we fail to excel in this basic human ability to respect those who think differently. We are blessed to live in our own state, a Jewish state that controls its own destiny, but we still are not able to achieve the ultimate redemption we strive toward and pray for each and every day. It is this very reason that while Tisha Be’av will eventually become a day of celebration to mark that ultimate redemption, it remains a day of commemoration for the tragedies that have befallen us throughout the generations.
SADLY, IF we look out at the world around us, it is all too easy to understand why a redemption built upon respect still evades us. The language that defines our interactions with others is all too often peppered by hostility and hatred, and we look down at the other rather than try to understand the challenges and aspirations that might make them different.
The service on Tisha Be’av focuses on golah, exile, and its movement towards geulah, redemption. The difference between these two Hebrew words is one letter, aleph, for ani – me. We can make the difference between golah and geulah. “Where am I in moving the destiny of the Jewish people and society forward?”
The difference in the words directs us to contemplate, and to find a solution. What do we intend to do in order to shape our destiny anew?
This year, for the first time, Ohr Torah Stone has joined forces with the creators of the well-known HaLayala Lo Lomdim Torah program that takes place throughout Israel every Tisha Be’av. We are delighted to have been able to also make sure that one of the 17 events will be in English.
The program is designed to focus our emotional and mental attention on this most somber of days to ask these questions of what we can do to change our world for the better. The name of the evening, HaLayala Lo Lomdim Torah (“Tonight we don’t learn Torah”), comes from the traditional custom that we are prohibited from Torah study on this day because it fills us with a sense of personal joy that we need to avoid during this day of mourning. But in place of traditional Torah study, we should not make the mistake that we are exempt from education. So we developed this program to focus on a series of thought-provoking lectures and conversations that address the schisms and conflicts which sadly still pervade our society.
Ultimately, if we hope to emulate our forefathers and become a people of great integrity, true yesharim, we will first need to answer this age-old question, “Where are we?” Because only if we are part of the solution and we are present in changing our world for the better will we ever be blessed with that ultimate redemption.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is president and rosh hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, a Modern Orthodox network of 30 institutions and programs making a transformative impact on Jewish life, learning and leadership worldwide. For more information on the Tisha Be’av program, visit www.ots.org.il/?s=tisha.