Joy from Pain: Lessons of Jewish History
By Asher Zeiger
Amid war and the nine days leading up to Tisha B'Av, I attended a brit milah (ritual circumcision). And, like most britot, it was lovely. The baby is gorgeous (as babies usually are), the parents, grandparents and siblings were all ecstatic, the crowd was friendly, the food delicious and the music joyful.
At the same time, it was a very odd experience. We were coming upon the most sorrowful date in the Jewish calendar, culminating a three-week period of mourning during which we traditionally restrict our enjoyment, so as to fully appreciate the gravity of the day. We refrain from haircuts, shaving, listening to music and going to movies. Weddings are forbidden, as are other major celebrations that would diminish the mourning aspect of the period.
Here we are, nearly 2,000 years after the destruction of the last Temple, and 66 years after the rebirth of an autonomous Jewish country in the State of Israel, and we still mourn.
On the surface, it seems a bit odd, to keep mourning something that is so far behind us. But no stranger than celebrating Passover and Hanukah millennia after the events took place - all of which continue to connect us to Israel, to Jerusalem, to our history, to our nation. And long after the days of remembrance, days of mourning, and even days of celebration have passed, their signficance remains pertinent to our lives as Jews.
While we strive to maintain the appropriate mood commemorating the many calamities that have befallen our people over the last 3,000 + years, it is incumbent upon us to "live in the today,” and thus we put aside the mourning customs to celebrate a child becoming one with the Jewish people. In this case, we watched a boy enter the ancient covenant between God and Abraham.
Jewish history, both ancient and modern, is filled with tragedy and triumph. We have been downtrodden in the past, yet we have managed to come back to the top. Perhaps as we continue to hold our breath in the midst of yet another war with the haters in Gaza, and on the receiving end of world condemnation – the dichotomy between the past and the present, the sorrow and the joy, is precisely what we are meant to take out of the day.
Every one of the tragedies of our past has a lesson for us today. Our challenge is seek out those lessons, and use them to make our present and our future that much stronger - for us as individuals, and for us as a collective nation.
We have succeeded in doing this because we have managed to hold on to the past, while not losing sight of the present.
And even in the darkest and most challenging of times, we are able to enjoy the present and look to the future when the music will once again play and celebrations will once again be in our lives, yet without forgetting the past through which our nation has survived, overcome, outlasted, and succeeded beyond our wildest imagination or the worlds' expectations.