Sitting here in Toronto, the big difference between Israel and the world I grew up in is obvious. I heard this in a shiur yesterday from Rabbanit Chana Henkin, who said, "There's nothing like water to emphasize the difference between inside and outside Israel."
Toronto, in particular, is a deliciously watery place. Perched on the brink of Lake Ontario, nestled between two (kinda, used-to-be) mighty rivers.
The water here makes me happy. Sort of.
But you know where else had a lot of water?
Babylon. (Again, this is not my idea, it’s Rabbanit Henkin’s; I just wrote it down.)
Babylon was built between two rushing rivers. Israel has nothing at all like it, and didn't in the time of the Tanach, either.
When the Jews left Israel in exile in 607 BCE, they wrote in Tehillim (137:1 & 4),
עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל--שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ: בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.
By the rivers of Bavel, there we sat, we also wept, when we remembered Tzion.
אֵיךְ--נָשִׁיר אֶת-שִׁיר-יְהוָה: עַל, אַדְמַת נֵכָר.
How can we sing Hashem's song on foreign soil?
There in Bavel, we were surrounded by water, just as I am here in beautiful, green, southern Ontario. But we knew, felt deeply, that we were far from home.
Here in Canada, the Jewish community is wealthy, comfortable. Their homes are large and safe; their yards and gardens and children and yeshivas bloom and thrive.
Yet here, I am uneasy.
Here in Canada, when Shabbos ends, I'll head to shul to hear Megillas Eichah. It’s too easy to say I’m in the wrong place, on the wrong continent.
Even if we were in Israel, it would be the wrong place, the wrong time – mourning in the midst of a nation not yet redeemed.
Our shul here – a spiritual home away from home – does a candlelit kumsitz the night of Tisha b’Av which is almost-but-not-quite enjoyable. It is truly beautiful. In the afternoon, there are videos, phone calls to Jewish communities around the world. We will hear about the Har Nof massacre. We will weep with Jews elsewhere.
They do their best to make Tisha b’Av a day not just about “when are we gonna eat?” but about growth as individuals and as a community.
Still. The rabbinically-condoned distractions help pass the time, but I cannot imagine actually enjoying the day.
In Megillas Eichah (2:19), we will read this year, as we have so many times before,
שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ, נֹכַח פְּנֵי ה
Pour out your heart like water before the face of Hashem.
All of this beautiful fresh water surrounds us here in Canada, greening the place to within an inch of its life. And I feel keenly every moment I’m not sweating that I’m not in Israel.
But even in Israel, we are not yet in Israel.
Unless we in exile pour out our hearts, struggling to connect Tisha b'Av with our true home in eretz Yisrael, doing all we can to return, it's meaningless - delicious water spilled on hard, unyielding ground.
How can we sing the song of Hashem here in exile?
At the end of Eicha (5:21), we will read:
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב וְנָשׁוּבָה, חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
Return us back to you, Hashem, and we'll come back. Renew our days as they were before.
Just give us a nudge, Hashem, and we'll be there.
Wonderful, holy Jews, pour out your hearts so that Hashem can heal us, repair us, return us, back to the place we truly belong.
May this be our last Tisha b'Av in galus.
(More about Tisha b’Av? Try the Tisha b’Av FAQ!)
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