By and large it seems that this present generation is an ahistorical generation. What has gone before is ignored and of little interest. Have we lost the plot? During the Three Weeks – and at any time of reflection and remembrance – we do well to consider why History is, in fact, important and what is lost when we do not deem it so.
~ Keren Hannah
“Hashiveinu! Turn us to You, O Lord, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old.” (Lamentations 5:21)
I am not sure if it is there anymore but, before the recent major renovations, a quote attributed to the Baal Shem Tov was inscribed above the exit of the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It read:
“Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”
The Feast days and the fast days are special periods of reflection in the Biblical calendar. They help us delve intentionally into God’s purposes in history; to plumb the depths of meaning both of the joys and of the tragedies and suffering of the past. As we do, we can marvel at how the ancient voices speak directly into our present reality and shine a light of understanding on today’s circumstances of confusion and pain. History, as God’s story, is the cord that binds us together. It is the crucible of the past that unites us and, as we learn from it, we can be transformed and propelled into the future with a clearer vision of His redemptive purposes.
Holocaust survivor, and renowned author and teacher, the late Eli Wiesel (z”l), endured memories of great suffering and he said: “Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” If we forget or choose to ignore the suffering and lessons of the past because, maybe, that would disturb our comfort and interfere with our “happiness,” we will lose the plot of our existence. Without the lessons of history, that provide an anchor of core values and deeper meaning, we will be drifting in a shallow, aimless sea of meaninglessness.
Western culture presents us with a perfect example. With its emphasis on youth and pressing forward without regard for, or understanding of, the roots of history there is no awe, respect, or gratitude for what went before. Thus, as Erica Brown describes, “Memorial Day [in the United States] is not observed as a mourning period for the loss of soldiers; it is a day of barbecues, sales, and public pool openings.” We may notice, too, that Thanksgiving has lost its historic and spiritual meaning and has become a day of lavish and excessive turkey dinners and football. The values have been lost along with the remembrance and there is a shallowness about it all. This also can be applied to Christianity that has cut itself off from the history of its Jewish Roots and in many cases the celebrations of Christmas and Easter can be viewed in the same light. The plot has been lost.
God’s timeframe for history is only found in the biblical calendar. At present we are anticipating the Three Weeks of reflection and repentance, which fall between the fast days of 17 Tammuz (1st July) and Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av (22nd July). On the 17th Tammuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and, after great suffering and the murder of her inhabitants, on Tisha b’Av the Holy Temple, the House of God, was destroyed.
As tragic as it was, the loss of the building itself was not the deepest sorrow. One can compare the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 11th September, 2001. The deeper tragedy was the loss of thousands of lives – each of which impacted further ripples of families and friends, as well as all of us who cared with aching hearts. The reasons for mourning on Tisha b’Av are predominantly the loss of the visible reminder of the Presence of God; the loss of His city, a capital that stood as a spiritual heart for His people; the exile from the Land. Another cause is the pain of the baseless hatred – of the enemy and among the people themselves – that were the cause of the destruction.
While we certainly can rejoice today at the restoration of the land of Israel and her people to it, and the reclamation of Jerusalem as the capital city, the story is not yet over. The warfare and pain continue and we teeter on the brink as a result of man’s forgetfulness and rejection of the ways and purposes of God. And so we mourn and repent, and pray and trust, and our hope is anchored in the mercy, compassion, and power of the God of Israel. We must simply determine to continue to serve Him in faith, and trust that He steadily will accomplish the ultimate goal of His great Redemption for all the earth.
“God is not a man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”