Smoldering

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

On the Ninth of Av, we fast to recall the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We customarily refrain from eating meat even on the Tenth of Av… when the ruins of the Temple continued to smolder. For this reason, Rabbi Yochanan considered 10 Av the more suitable day for national mourning (Ta’anit 29A). The meaning of this protracted process of grieving is suggested by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“It is only great pain – that slow, sustained pain that takes its time, in which we are, as it were, burned with smoldering green firewood – that forces us philosophers to sink to our ultimate profundity and to do away with… everything good-natured, veil-imposing, mild and middling, on which we may have previously based our humanity. I doubt that such pain makes us ‘better’ – but I know that it makes us deeper.”

It is insufficient merely to bewail isolated moments of historic loss and failure without learning from the continuing impact of those events. The loss of the Temple has shaped Jewish life for millennia. Slavery in America left a legacy of smoldering racism and searing injustice which is even today not fully extinguished.

The time for lamentation and mild historical assessment is past. May the more painful process of meaningful action leave us profoundly transformed. Perhaps even better.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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