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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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From despair to rejoicing

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Rabbi Howard Morrison

Soon, the Jewish people will commemorate the saddest period of the Jewish calendar, known as the Three Weeks of Distress, beginning with the fast of Shivah Asar b’Tammuz and concluding with the fast of Tisha b’Av.

According to tradition, the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem during the First Temple period on the 17th of Tammuz. Three weeks later, on Tisha b’Av, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the second time by the Romans in 70 CE.

The Talmud contains a wide array of views explaining the causes of why our Holy Temple was destroyed. Many of the recorded positions posit failings in inter-relationships between Jews and fellow Jews. The most famous rationale offered, although it’s not the only one, is called “sinat chinam,” baseless self-hatred between Jews and fellow Jews. This particular explanation surrounds the discussion on the events that led to the destruction of our Second Holy Temple.

During the Second Temple period, we know that the Jewish People were divided into many smaller Jewish communites: Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, Zealots, the Dead Sea sect, etc. Could it be that the sinat chinam between these various communities prevented our ancestors from seeing that they all comprised one Jewish people? If so, one can understand how the Holy Temple and the city of Jerusalem were taken from Jewish sovereignty.

How would one assess the state of the Jewish people today? Rabbi Mark Angel, authored an essay, “Two communities – one destiny,” that appeared in Ha’aretz on May 23. He wrote that the Jewish People today may be classified as those who do not abide by Halachah, those who abide by it rigidly, and those who abide by Halachah compassionately. He voices his concern that while there are different Jewish communities today, everyone needs to step forward and address the notion that we are all part of one Jewish people. 

This month, I am completing my two-year term as president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis, which comprises rabbis from different communities in the GTA who recognize that we represent a single Jewish peoplehood. We are extremely grateful to UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, which has actively supported our efforts. We also thank the Canadian Jewish News for enabling members of the Toronto Board of Rabbis to write their rabbinic reflections over the years.

As we prepare to commemorate the sad season of the Three Weeks, may we all do our best in trying to actualize the expression, “Mi’yagon l’simchah,” doing whatever we can as a unified Jewish people consisting of many communities to transform the sadness and despair of this season on our calendar to joy and celebration.

Rabbi Howard Morrison is spiritual leader of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue and president of the Toronto Board of Rabbis.

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