Reflections for the month of Av: A month of destruction and loss, renewal and joy.
"Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become will catch me.” -Baal Shem Tov
When these words were repeated, with the demonstration and explanation for my mother, it was the final straw.
I was 5-years old, and my best friend Mary Elizabeth and her brother Mathew were sitting cross-legged in front of me on her bedroom floor. We were heading off for a card game of strip poker in the closet. Mary Elizabeth pointed to her crotch and exclaimed, "Hamburgers!" and Mathew pointed to his crotch and said, "Hotdogs!"
Later in the day when I repeated this exciting news to my mother, she made a swift decision that must have been coming in on the horizon – I could no longer play with Mary Elizabeth for the whole winter. To give some context – this was North Dakota, and the winter was a long time. My friend would come over from time to time and ask in her little girl voice, "Is the winter over yet?" No, it wasn't. I don't know how long this went on, and how hard my mother kept to it, but it was my first experience in a painful loss filled with shame. There wasn't a lot of discussion about this incident of the hamburgers and hotdogs, but there was a clear, unspoken message that something very bad had taken place and some sort of damage had occurred. I had a painful, unnamable feeling inside.
Is there this hint of shame contained within the various losses we have experienced and will experience in this life? Did I feel this shame in the loss of my dad? I don't know. When he died I felt an extreme vulnerability and a sense of being torn wide open. When my 16-year-old crush removed his things from my locker and then disappeared, I felt so ashamed.
Stories of tremendous loss and pain are intrinsic in the Jewish month of Av. Two reality-changing events happened in this month of mourning, and they took place on the same date. On the 10th of Av, King Solomon’s Holy Temple crashed to the ground. Centuries later, on the 10th of Av, the Second Temple, built to replace Solomon’s original, crashed to the ground. What is of importance is why these Temples were essential to the Jewish people, and why they were brought crumbling down.
When the Temples were present, there was a palpable experience of holiness and protection for the Jewish people. The first Temple came down because of the incorrect actions and behavior amongst the people, while the Second Temple fell because the people were senselessly judging and hating each other. After each Temple was destroyed there existed unspeakable loss and a sense of shame.
During both the prior month of Tammuz and this month of Av, we go into ourselves through our eyes. It's like the 1966 movie "Fantastic Voyage" in which a submarine crew shrinks down to microscopic size and ventures into the body of an injured scientist to repair damage to his brain. Traveling inward through our eyes, we are to look around and examine our beliefs. We are to look into our behavior and we are to see the perspective we are taking toward other people and ourselves. With a compassionate vision, we can compost our mistakes and shortcomings and use them to learn, repair, and grow.