THE KEYS WE HOLD
Although there are better known stories depicting last week’s stain on Jewish history, there is one that holds greater meaning for me than all the rest. It depicts young Kohanim or priests in training, ascending the roof of the Beit HaMikdash with keys to various chambers of the holy edifice in their hands. Turning their faces heavenward, these young Kohanim admitted that they failed in their responsibilities of keepers of the keys. It was therefore only proper and befitting, that they return the keys that they had been entrusted with by HaShem. No sooner did these young Kohanim toss these keys up in the air, when a heavenly hand emerged, removing the keys from human possession.
While admittedly resorting to idiomatic expressions in the English language, there were three keys that were never offered to be returned by the young Kohanim and could therefore never be accepted by HaShem. Perhaps of even greater importance, these three keys that the young Kohanim refused to surrender served as the very antithesis to those keys returned to HaShem. Whereas those keys returned to HaShem by the young Kohanim symbolized keys of destruction and ruin, the three keys that the young Kohanim adamantly refused to surrender represented keys of perseverance and perpetuity.
The first key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem, was the “key of recrimination.” Even if they wanted to, the young Kohanim could not have surrendered the “key of recrimination” because they could not claim exclusive ownership. The “key of recrimination” was a key that was first used by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was then passed on from generation to generation. It was Abraham however, who refused to have any part of the “key of recrimination” just as Abraham refused to have any part in the worship of idols. Abraham understood that recrimination and idolatry absolve the individual of responsibility. Idolatry placed everything that went on in this world in the hands of deities: the “key of recrimination” placed everything that went on in one’s own world in the hands of others. In both situations, the individual remained devoid of responsibility. If the “key of recrimination” was in the sole possession of the young Kohanim, and if the young Kohanim had chosen to surrender it to HaShem, then the message of Tisha B’Av would have been: “Just as it was beyond our scope to have played any role whatsoever in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, so too is it beyond our scope to play any role whatsoever in the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.”
Although never intended as such, it was HaShem who defined our very essence as a people. In a state of anger and exasperation, it was HaShem who told Moshe that our ancestors were a group of “stiff-necked” people. The personality trait of being “stiff-necked” was one that would remain with us as a people from that moment on; that personality trait would prove define our very essence and explain our being able to defy overwhelming odds time and time again. As a people, we are determined and resolute. As a nation, we are contrarians. While I am neither a sociologist nor a historian, it nevertheless appears, that as a people, we Jews seem to thrive in the face of adversity. Stated differently, time and time again, it has been shown that our shining moment as a people often occurs when the chips are down. Despite quotas in Law Schools and Medical Schools in this country a century ago, Jews gained admission as well a grudging acceptance into fields reserved for Christian America. Yet, once admitted and accepted, Jews continued to aspire to the top tier, so that instead of being looked down upon, Jews were suddenly being looked up to. The characterization of being “stiff-necked” turned out to be one of our greatest strengths and attributes as a people. The key of being “stiff-necked” was the second key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem.
The human head is more than just home to four of the five senses. The human head possesses the ability to refine and distinguish those senses. Not only can the human ear hear words, but it can also discern how those words are spoken. Not only can the human nose inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, but it can also distinguish between pleasant scents and unpleasant odors. So too the human eye. Depth perception aside, our tradition maintains that we were gifted by HaShem with two eyes, so that we could use one eye to see how others affect our lives and the other eye to see how we affect our lives. If Jewish sources – religious as well as secular – have taught us anything, it is that we Jews have a tendency to favor the eye that allows us to see how we affect our lives. Whether tragedy or triumph, our focus as a people has primarily been on ourselves, rather than the enemy. Regardless of the hand dealt us, we focus on introspection. As a result, little, if any energy is expended on grudges or revenge or seeking justice. Instead, most, if not all energy, is directed to picking up shattered pieces, left in the aftermath and building a brighter future. The key to introspection was the third key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem.
The time period between last week’s commemoration of Tisha B’Av and next month’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah is designated as seven weeks of consolation. True and meaningful consolation comes about when we realize that that the key to recrimination, the key to being stiff-necked and the key to introspection were never surrendered to HaShem but remain in the firm grip of our people. May we find meaningful consolation knowing that we possess all three keys.