Returning From Spiritual Exile
Jerusalem isn’t just the physical entity of a city. Jerusalem is a concept that evokes our spiritual aspiration for unity. In Tisha B’Av, as we commemorate the destruction of the Earthly Jerusalem, we also recognize the beginning of a spiritual exile. Through the text we connect with the tears of our ancestors, weeping by the waters of Babylon and yearning for the home that had been lost, but also, as the book of Lamentations expresses, crying for a broken relationship with God.
With the foundation of the state of Israel, for many Jews Tisha B’Av lost its relevance. After all, we were back home. And that’s an undeniable truth. But even the most important miracle that happened to the Jewish People in the last 2,000 years can’t prevent us from a spiritual exile. Tisha B’Av marks in our calendar the day after which we undertake the process of return, Teshuvah that we aspire to reach toward Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In Tisha B’Av we try to recognize our exile, we try to understand how far we are from the places in which we strive to be as individuals and as a society. We admit the painful reality of a distance that has gotten us so far that we are not able to see the “promised land”.
Today we cry. We cry because it’s just what we need. Our tears help us see more clearly.
We read from the book of Lamentations, Eicha. We engage in one of the most common Jewish practices… We complain! “Eicha?” “How can this be possible??”. But as we cry from the bottom of our hearts and wonder and accuse “eicha?” אֵיכָה, we gradually start to hear God’s voice. We hear God’s ontological question to Adam: “Aieka” אַיֶּכָּה – Where are you! A question meant to function as a GPS to our souls, and that curiously spells exactly as”Eicha”. However, the “Aieka” question is an invitation to self awareness and personal responsibility that can help us trigger the beginning of our journey back.
As the last verse of the book of Lamentations states:
הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ ונשוב [וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה]
Return us to You, Yah, and we will return.
Let us hear Your voice, let us perceive Your presence. And we will return.
חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם:
Let our bitter tears clear up the path for a life of renewal and of unity with our souls and You.