R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av.
You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril?
According to Rabbi Lappe, we have three choices:
- Deny. Pretend the crash didn’t happen. This allows our master story to stay intact temporarily, but it’s a lie that will catch up to us eventually.
- Flee. Run as far as possible from the old master story while creating a shiny new one. This provides short-term comfort, but severs us from critical elements of our origin story and is therefore ultimately unsustainable.
- Revise. Accept the crash, be realistic about its impact, mourn it honestly, and then commit to building a new master story that remains connected to our core truths, but evolves so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Reconstituted from what was, we make a meaningful course correction, writing the next draft of our ever-evolving story.
Modern Jewish life, and the fact that we’re here now, suggests that enough of our ancestors at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple responded to that crash with choice #3. And by doing so, they allowed Judaism as a religion to continue to invent and reinvent itself for the last two thousand years. Our Judaism – the Judaism that we practice today – carries with it the core truths of what crashed with the Temple, while being open enough to reimagine what would be both necessary and possible in the world to come. We are living the result of choice #3, like the waxing moon emerging from newness, or spring emerging from winter.
Painfully, we find ourselves in the midst of our own historic crash moment today. Between COVID-19 and sustained racial justice uprisings, so much of our American master story has come crashing down all around us, revealing itself in real time to be faulty at best. From education to infrastructure, health care to public policy, race, rights, and rebellion – our master story is in peril. The real question is how will we respond. Do we deny, and pretend that we can go forward like we’ve gone on in the past? Do we flee, rushing to create something unrecognizable and entirely new? Or do we honor our present circumstances, mourn the tragic number of lives lost and hopes dashed, and then reconstitute a version of America that soars towards our ideals while staying rooted to the best of where we’ve been?
Our prayer and approach as Hazon Detroit is to pursue choice #3 with everything we’ve got. That is why we have continued to scale up our relief garden and food rescue work. That is why we have reimagined our Food Festival this year as a “Food Festival In A Box.” That is why we’ve launched our 2020 Vision Rides. That is why we give you and your children opportunities to engage with nature. And that is why we continue to preach, speak, and act every day for a better world.
The commemoration of Tisha B’Av, and the experience of any crash moment, including the one we’re living through right now, presents us with an imperative and an impulse to mourn seriously what is lost. But if it ends there, we might just be missing the whole point. Because out of the rubble of Tisha B’Av – we’re taught – the moshiach/the messiah is born.
As we head deeper into this period of mourning on our calendar, may we deeply grieve all of those and all of that which we have lost. And then, may we find the strength and resolve within ourselves to rebuild and revise the world around us with a liberated sense of possibility, embracing the sacred opportunity of being alive in just this moment, ensuring that from the ashes of now come the seeds of redemption.
In loving community,
Rabbi Nate, Wren, Marla, Brittany, and Hannah