Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I would be a horrible Jew

It's a good thing my parents were not Jewish. Too much fasting and I enjoy my food too much to give it up that often. By my count, there are two major fast days and five minor fasts in the Jewish year. Since I did not grow up in their culture, my counting could be off by a couple dozen.

Why do I bring this up now? Today is one of those major fasts. It is Tisha B'Av - or the ninth of Av.

This is a day of mourning and remembrance as tradition holds both the first temple and the second temple in Jerusalem were destroyed on this day (separated by over 650 years). Jews observe this day as the saddest day in their history. It is a day that is punctuated with wailing and deep lament. And fasting.

As Jewish holidays start at sunset the preceding day and end at night fall, my efforts to observe Tisha B'Av started last night. It's been a long time since I last fasted, and in this respect I would make a horrible Jew. And by 'horrible' I mean 'unsuccessful in every respect.' When Jews fast, they abstain from both food and beverage. I think that's insane (no disrespect intended). I can hold off the food, but the thirst is overwhelming. I've had much water today, but I've managed to avoid edible products. It would be an understatement to say that I'm hungry. I can't wait for sunset.

I'm not fully able to embrace the mourning and sadness over the temple's destruction. In my own personal faith I believe that we've been promised a new Jerusalem and that I am God's temple. However, there is one tradition that I can get into. Every year, on the ninth of Av, the book of Lamentations is read aloud in synagogues as it is Jeremiah's testimony of the first temple's destruction. It's my favorite book in the Bible - it's showing us that it is acceptable to express grief and sorrow.

For two and a half chapters, Jeremiah complains about how his life is miserable. Then in the midst of all that hurt, he says something amazing:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.*

That, for me, is the meaning in Tisha B'Av. No matter what hurts, there is hope. But for now, I'm hungry and the sun has almost sunk below the horizon.

* Regardless of your beliefs, you should read the third chapter of Lamentations. It's amazing.

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