ON THE EVE OF DESTRUCTION

In all probability, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews will be fasting this Sunday, as yet another Tisha B’Av is commemorated. It may very well be that the rabbinic sages who experienced and survived the horrors of the Temple in flames, would find it extremely hard to believe that the mourning over a destroyed Temple continues and perhaps in some cases has even intensified in some respects two thousand years after the calamity.

If the message of Tisha B’Av is to be truly understood and appreciated, it would seem to me that our focus as Jews not be in any way limited to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There are other destructions that are not only worthy of notice, but actually cry out for our attention. Hopefully we will shed a tear for them as well.

The destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem was a two-time event. The destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians occurred in the year 586 B.C.E. The destruction of the second Temple by the Romans occurred in the year 70 C.E. Since then, the Babylonians have not destroyed any Temples; since then, the Romans have not destroyed any Temples. Neither has any other nation, for that matter.

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and unfortunately, in some cases gone so far as to participate in, other destructions, however. Long before the destruction of the two Temples, and ever since the destruction of the two Temples, we have destroyed relationships. Intentionally or not, we have turned the priceless loyalty of friends into a worthless heap of ashes. Placing personal agenda over devotion, elevating ego over esteem, we have destroyed cherished friendships, close friendships. Our siddurim or prayer books don’t seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to the reconstructing Jerusalem and rebuilding the holy Temple. Yet, when it comes to reconstructing a relationship or rebuilding a friendship, those very same siddurim are ominously silent. How very sad!

As members of the human race, we Jews have witnessed and, in some cases, gone so far as to participate in, the destruction of careers. One thing humans are quite adept at is character assassination. Sixty plus years ago, a lackluster senator from Wisconsin, aided and abetted by the press, as well as other media outlets, was catapulted to national fame as he fanned the flames of fear of the American people. A nation of “Chicken Littles” were caught up in a frenzy of this country being infiltrated by Communists. “We have to do something,” clucked the frightened fowl. And so, they put a kibosh on careers and ruined reputations. And yes, some whose lives were left in tatters even ended up committing suicide. Yet, lest one think that “Chicken Littles” have flown the coop, one would do well to consider the spate of sexual harassment charges that have been recently hurled. Who would ever have believed that there are secretaries who consensually misbehaved with their superiors, only to suddenly decide to take the moral high road after having been spurned and cast aside by those very same superiors as the appetites of those superiors are whetted by other women?

Speaking of suicides, did you know that suicide is the second ranking cause of death for individuals 15-24 years of age? Thanks to “cyber-bullying” otherwise known as using the internet to spread malicious gossip to ruin someone’s reputation, more and more of our youth are taking their own lives. Yet, parents from all social and economic strata refuse to even consider the possibility that their child is either in harms way as a potential victim, or is heaven forbid one of the perpetrators of such reprehensible behavior. Instead, time and energy are expended for the physical safety of the student, while the spiritual safety of that same student goes unnoticed.

As we mourn the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem this Sunday, we would well to also mourn relationships and friendships we’ve destroyed, careers we’ve shattered and teenage suicides to which we sit by idly and do nothing.

OPEN ARMS AND NOT POINTED FINGERS

It sickens me that the mass onslaught at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida last week will in all likelihood not be the last time an out of control individual snuffs out the lives of innocents who in all likelihood never even knew their assailant, much less meant him any harm. It sickens me to realize the time, effort and energy the people of this country expend on useless and meaningless recrimination in the aftermath of a mass killing.

As one who has been a “first responder” when hearts have been broken and lives have been shattered, I would like to suggest that when needless tragedy strikes, there are meaningful and constructive steps we can take.

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1839-1933) better known as the Chofetz Chaim has been known for his time and energy devoted against “Loshen Hara” or gossip and more specifically slander. He understood only too well the deleterious effects character assassination had on people. I have every reason to believe that the Chofetz Chaim would be left speechless at the hyper rapid speed achievable nowadays when it comes to character assassination, thanks to the internet. Called cyberbullying, victimized students have in some cases responded through suicide and even homicide when their characters have been sullied through “Loshon Hara.” A recent cause celebre has been for concerned citizens to take up the cudgel against pornography on the internet and its effect on teenagers. That’s perfectly fine. Yet, I’m not aware of any student taking an assault weapon, entering his school and randomly snuffing out the lives of other students after having been exposed to pornography on the internet. Perhaps equal, if not greater effort should be mustered by concerned citizens against “Loshen Hara” or cyberbullying than is being mustered against pornography.

A good many American presidents had dreams for this country. For Franklin Roosevelt, it was a “New Deal;” for Lyndon Johnson, it was a “Great Society.” I find it unbelievable that American presidents have not been appalled by mass killings at schools, places of worship and community centers; I find it utterly disgraceful that not one President of these United States of either political party has spoken out about how horrendous and unacceptable victims of cyberbullying in our society have reacted to as well as responded to the evil of character assassination. Similarly, I find it utterly disgraceful that that not one President of the United States of either political party has spoken out against those responsible for the evil of character assassination through cyberbullying. Isn’t it time for zero tolerance to be dispensed against cyberbullying? If pollution of the atmosphere was deemed as an evil dooming our lives, shouldn’t pollution of the character also be deemed as an evil dooming our lives?

I was not quite 15 years old, when the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. What I remember most, is Senator (Bobby) Kennedy announcing the assassination to an unsuspecting crowd in Indianapolis: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Because mass killings have been taking place for the last quarter of a century, the numbers of family members whose lives have been turned upside down, probably number the hundreds, if not thousands. Let the bereaved reach out to the bereaved. Let them echo the words of Bobby Kennedy “I had member of my family killed.” Let them substantiate the teachings of our rabbinic sages who reminded us that “words that come from the heart find their way into the heart of others.”

Now is not the time for pointing fingers. Now is the time to turn with open arms to the family members of those whose lives were tragically and senselessly snuffed out.