Friday, July 28, 2017
For The Sake of the Ways of Peace
Tisha B’Av is this coming Monday night through Tuesday. This is the day in the Jewish calendar that the members of the Jewish nation mourn the destruction of both of our Temples so long ago and also reflect upon the words and actions that are destructive to the well being of people and are faulted with bringing about these and other catastrophes that have had such a lasting impact on the Jewish people. We are presently in the midst of the Three Weeks and what is called the Nine Days, which is when we prepare for Tisha B’Av and are to think about ourselves and our relationships with each other and so much else.
In my daily Gemara (Talmud) learning, I am studying Tractate Gitin, the treatise devoted to the discussion of why and how divorce is to remedy difficult situations, in marriage, and, by association, other relationships that can be problematic are discussed as well. I often shake my head as I am learning and wonder how much of this text certain religious leaders and individuals conveniently forget when I witness the abuse of women and others in our contemporary society in the supposed name of Halacha/Jewish Law, which is precisely what Halacha does NOT prescribe. Within the context of this discussion, there are constant and ongoing references to Tikkun Olam, which is, properly understood, those Rabbinic enactments that were instituted to resolve specific societal problem, misuses and abuses of laws and how they were intended to be enacted and so forth. Inherent in this study is an ongoing discussion in which the issues of women’s rights to agency and the need for their protection within the reality of the social context of the time are balanced – sometimes awkwardly, but more than you might think, with aplomb and sensitivity. Also within the associated discussions related to this topic, we are introduced to the concept of mipnei darchei shalom or that so much of Torah and the laws that evolve are because of the need for maintaining the ways of peace (see especially 59a and 59b of Masechet Gitin if you want to learn this for yourself). There is elasticity and consideration that is proposed as necessary regarding a variety of matters ranging from how one insures that business dealings involving deaf persons or children are valid and appropriate and not taking advantage of them, the order of who reads from the Torah (takes aliyot) in shul and how it can be changed, acquisition of lands and so much else. Within these deliberations it is so clear that the LAW OF TORAH is as much about the foundational values on which it is based as much as any interpretation, expansion or other use of it. Torah is to be used specifically to maintain ways of peace.
It is poignant to note that within these discussions, Eicha (Lamentations) is often quoted as the Talmud continues its academic meanderings. This is the very text we will be reading Monday night in our muted state of sitting on the floor with a minimum of light to remind us of the darkness that comes when we forget what is important. Our prophets constantly remind us that it is not the ritualistic acts of piety, which can unfortunately come across as false piety that define a truly religious person, if they are not motivated by and accompanied by the very actions that characterize our caring and concern about others. It is through our acts of chesed –kindness towards others – and truly acknowledging the humanity of each other that we show our mettle as religious beings. Then, and ONLY THEN according to Isaiah and so many others of the prophets, can we come to the Temple, or the synagogues in our days, and engage in prayer and supplication and interact with God. If our actions are not worthy, our words are empty. And it is this about which the prophets have been so clear – God does not want our empty words and sanctimonious presence.
As we sit quietly and read the words of Lamentations this coming Monday night (and I recommend all who are interested in this thought do so in your own Bibles or on line), let us remember that the reasons for various destructions and so much tragedy in our past is not only due to the enemy outside of us but to the insidious enemy that sometimes is none other than us. Let us all work to observe the corrective actions of Tikkun Olam, which are dictated by Jewish Law and work ourselves to enact those Darchei Shalom – ways of peace- that can truly change our world. Maybe then God will find our words worthy and truly show compassion to all who speak them.
Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Tisha B’Av to all who observe it.