Monday, August 08, 2011

Homelessness and Remembering Jerusalem on the 9th of Av

Today is the ninth of Av.
It's a day of national mourning for the Jewish people.
Today the first and second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed and the Jewish people were sent into exile.
Many other tragedies have happen to the Jews on this day. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain started on the 9th of Av, for example.

It's all so far removed, though.

It's hard to get a grip on the sadness when it's something that was lost so long ago. Even harder when the loss is not something we personally experienced.
I can remember my grandmother wiping away tears for a friend that had died. She was really sad about it and couldn't talk about it. The friend wasn't someone I knew or even knew of. She had come up in a conversation we were having and when I asked later when the friend had died, she said it was years ago. Years, I wasn't even born when her friend died. And yet she missed her and was still able to cry over the loss that was more than 50 years old. Something valued had been lost, irrevocably and she still felt the pain.
I'm not a stranger to loss. I've had friend and family that have died and it was hard to adjust to their being gone.
But those were personal and close.
I've tried to connect to the loss of the temple and the tragedies of the Jews over the millinia, but I've found it very hard to imagine the feeling.
The temple is just a archeological site, and place described in the Torah and Talmud.
The closest I've ever come to understanding the loss was through a teacher I had several years ago.
She gave us a lesson on the importance of the temple and what it represented to the Jewish people. She described the temple as G/d's house, His home on this earth, and when it was destroyed, He was made homeless. He has no address, no resting place now. She described the essence of G/d adrift in this world with no one and nothing to attach itself to and the suffering and loss that G/d "experiences" daily because humans don't have this unique place to communion with Him.
I kept thinking about what she said after the lesson was over and I had gone home to have lunch. I kept trying to imagine what it must be like for G/d to be without a home amongst humans, that because of our lack of caring, G/d had to pack up and leave us on our own here to find a way to reach him, each one of us by ourselves.
But because G/d is just too big a concept for me, I tried to find a way to make it smaller and more manageable, more personal.
So I started to think about how I would feel if it was my parents that had been thrown out of the their house because they couldn't stay there anymore, evicted for whatever reason, all their possessions gone and living on the street. I got into the details of it: no where to sleep at night, no bed. Where do you go to the bathroom, where do you bathe? What do you do if you just want to sit down and rest? You don't even have a chair! And when the weather gets bad-very hot or very cold or it rains? Where do you find shelter? What if they get sick? What if someone robs them?
I didn't have to think about it very long to get completely upset and overwhelmed.
I just dropped it and went to eat my lunch.
I had a sandwich for my meal and when Jews eat bread they have to say Grace After Meals.

The third part of this prayer is about Jerusalem:

Have mercy, Lord our God, on Israel Your people, on Jerusalem Your city, on Zion the home of your glory, on the kingdom of the house of David, Your anointed one, and on the great and holy house that is called by Your name. * Our God, our Father, look after us and feed us, give us a livelihood and support us, relieve us, and quickly provide a respite from all our troubles, Lord our God. And please, let us not be dependent, Lord our God, on any gift or loan from a human being, but rather on Your hand that is full, open, holy and generous, so that we should never feel embarrassed or ashamed.

*I got here and I burst out into tears. G/d should have mercy on us?! G/d doesn't even have a home amongst us because we couldn't behave. Why should He have mercy on us? I'm begging my homeless Father in Heaven to have mercy on me and take care of me? Who's taking care of Him? Just like I would never allow my parents to live on the street if they were evicted from their home, how can I let G/d live without a home? And yet I do let Him live without a home. Do I really want Jerusalem's Temple rebuilt and for G/d to have a place amongst us and all the people of the world?

Since then when I go to Jerusalem and the Kotel (Western Wall), I feel such a sense of shame. All the people coming there to spill their hearts (as they should) and I wonder if anyone cries for G/d and His homelessness?

There is a Rabbi Addis that lives at the Kotel. He made himself homeless. He is married and has children but refuses to live at home until the temple is rebuilt. He cries, and he prays and lives outside because G/d is without a place to live. He teaches people, he is a very learned man. Our rabbi talks to him frequently, asking questions, clarifying points in Talmud and the Zohar. He's not crazy. He's just living what he believes and wants others to feel the loss of the temple to the Jewish people and how G/d suffers from the lack of a way to connect to us.

The last time I was at the Kotel, I cried. I'm not the kind of person who cries in public, but this last time something got to me. Every time I go there I try to see up to the temple mount and to imagine what the temple must have looked like. What the smoke was like from the fire, the smells of incense, the crowds of people going up and down the staircase. I can't though. All I see are the huge stones in the support walls of the temple mount, the western wall, the Kotel, all that remains of G/d's home on earth. I hadn't been to the Kotel in months and I had this impulse to tear my clothing, a sign of mourning that some Jews do when they have been away from Jerusalem for over 30 days. I couldn't tear my shirt; I needed something sharp. I didn't have anything with me, not even a paper clip that I could have used to poke a hole to get started. So I wandered around the plaza in the Kotel and asked strangers, mostly foreigners! if they had a pair of scissors or pocket knife or even nail clippers. No one had anything. So I tried to pick a hole in my undershirt with my own fingernails but I didn't manage to do anything. I finally gave up and prayed Mincha and read Tehillim ( Psalms). Later that week at home in Hadera, I was folding laundry and discovered that I had made a hole, a very small hole in that undershirt. I smiled. I had remembered G/d, I had remembered Jerusalem.

May the temple be rebuilt speedily in our days.

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