My Tisha b'Av - Hope
Hey, so as part of my rabbinical degree requirements I have to do a humanitarian service project. I won’t get into the details overly much but to begin, I have to submit a proposal about the organization I want to work with, what needs they’re serving and how effective they have been, and what I’m proposing to do with them. The organization also has to agree to work with me and with MJTI. Most students of the program thus far have chosen to go to Africa with an established Jewish-Christian ministry. Something inside me kept telling me no. That is not your path. Silently, I fought with that voice for a couple of years, knowing how much easier it would be as a Messianic Jew to openly work with an established, Messianic Jewish friendly ministry. I could just plug myself into their established programs and be done. But no. This summer, stuck in our homes and shielded by masks I finally decided to forge my own path. Why take the easy way out right? But seriously, when Eva and I decided to foster, we did so because there are people right here, children, in desperate need of stable and loving homes. We are not people who are going to travel around the world digging wells or teaching people how to grow food. While that work is important, that is not our gift. We realized we have a loving family with available space, and we could help children right here, in Southeast Michigan. So, in similar fashion, I decided to find some place local.
I am working with Hope Clinic in Ypsilanti. If you don’t know anything about Hope Clinic, you should. This is an incredible organization doing amazing work. They began as a single doctor offering free medical care to poor, uninsured people. It has since expanded to include dental and vision care. They provide access to free social workers who help guide clients to federal, state, county, city, and private assistance programs. They have free access to laundry facilities. And amongst other things, a large part of what they do is food programs. This is where I’ve plugged in. They give away food every day from their food pantry, provide hot dinners 3 days a week, hand out cold sack lunches, deliver food to homebound people and, pre-COVID, they even had a farm stand with fresh fruits and veggies. I could go on and on about their many programs and services but that is not why I’m here. I am here today to tell you about my Tisha b’Av.
This past week, I scheduled myself to volunteer in all of the different tasks involved in Hope’s food programs. I did so over a month ago and when I did so, I failed to check the Hebrew calendar. So, coincidentally, while fasting for Tisha b’Av and thinking about suffering and destruction and all of the mayhem and horrific and horrendous things spoken about in Lamentations which we read about Wednesday night in that incredibly moving and well organized Zoom service (thank you Rabbi Isaac), while fasting I was hungrily working at Hope Clinic giving food away at the food pantry and talking to people.
It is a remarkably humbling experience to realize just how blessed you are and how much suffering others are going through.
And, it is tremendously, soulfully, satisfying to be kind and generous to people in need.
I entered Hope Clinic Tisha b’Av morning, sad and mournful. I was depressingly moved by sitting in the dark, reading Lamentations, and thinking about the horrors this Chosen People, my people, have suffered. Sure, Hashem is a God of Justice and our people failed to honor our Covenant and to keep the Mitzvot. At times many of us have failed even to honor what Yeshua and many Rabbis of His day considered to be the most important commandment, Shema Israel, ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad. Verses from today’s parashah. And so, in this broken world we have, we are, and we will suffer. Did you know there were 690 MILLION people who went to bed hungry every night last year? 37 MILLION of them right here in the world’s greatest food-producing nation. And this year with COVID, America is trending towards doubling that number.
While giving out food, some of the verses from Lamentations came back to me:
All her people sigh, they seek bread: they have given their precious things for food to revive their soul. Look, O Lord, and consider how abject I have become. (Lamentations 1:11)
They say to their mothers, Where is grain and wine? When they faint like wounded men in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out on their mothers’ bosom. (Lam. 2:12)
Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord; lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street. Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom you have done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, their cherished babies? (Lam. 2:19-20)
The tongue of the sucking child cleaves to the roof of his mouth for thirst; the young children ask for bread, and no man gives it to them. (Lam. 4:4)
Lamentations is not just about the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple and Tisha b’Av is not just about the past. This day of remembrance is about our realizing how broken this world is, for repenting for our part in its brokenness, and for realizing that there is hope.
Thinking about all this as I left Hope Clinic on Thursday, I detoured to pick up some groceries. I could have gone left or right and traveled any number of paths to get to any number of grocery stores, a luxury I was acutely aware of in that moment, and after talking to Eva I decided to go to Meijer on Carpenter road, a store I haven’t been to in many years. I drove through some rough Ypsilanti neighborhoods and my path brought me to a stoplight. Looking up, across Michigan Avenue I saw Growing Hope, an urban farming/community gardening organization that fosters an equitable and sustainable local food system where all people are empowered to grow, sell, buy, prepare, and eat nourishing food. It struck me that Growing Hope was on a related mission to that of Hope Clinic and of course, their similar names stood out immediately in my head. From there, I turned left onto Michigan and then right onto Ellsworth where I passed Hope Community Credit Union. Now that really struck me. The Tisha b’Av season begins with admonition, a fancy word for scolding, climaxes with recollections of destruction, death, and abandonment (things many are feeling now during this Pandemic) but then transitions to Nachamu, comfort and HOPE. I really got that this year. Probably because Hashem hammered it into my head with Hope Clinic, Growing Hope, and Hope Community Credit Union. Nevertheless, I got it. I got the message. I turned right instead of left for no apparent reason other than to get this message. HOPE. I do not believe this was incidental or coincidental or accidental. On this Tisha b’Av, on this dark day of fasting, this day to remember the suffering and destruction of so much,… on this day where I was giving out groceries and talking to ordinary people, sufferingly poor and hungry but humble, grateful, and kind people, it occurred to me that my mission on that day was one of hope. That while Tisha b’Av starts out in a very dark place, it transitions to comfort, and hope in Hashem, the God of Mercy, and the Messianic redemption. Nachamu, Nachamu ami. Comfort, comfort my people, for God demonstrated His heart and love by giving us and the world His Son. We have hope. And it is our duty to give hope to others, to love our neighbors. I am not telling you to go volunteer at a food pantry or to start fostering. Though those are both excellent ways to heal brokenness and give hope, and I would certainly welcome your company in my efforts. What I believe is that we all have gifts and we all need to figure that out how to use them to heal, to honor, to care for, to feed, and to love. We all must do our part in tikkun olam. And in doing so we can all give others hope through our actions, through our words, and through sharing the Besorah, the Good News of Messiah.
There is a Jewish tradition that says Messiah will enter (re-enter) the world on the afternoon of Tisha b'Av. On the year's darkest day, the seed of hope will reemerge.
The prophet Zechariah pictures Tisha b’Av in the future as a day of rejoicing. “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month (Tisha b’Av), the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness.” (Zech. 8:19) In the future, when there is peace, and Messiah rules from Jerusalem, we will experience Tisha B’Av like never before . . .
Until that day, it is our mission, every day, to keep our eyes fixed on hope – on Yeshua, and to bring that hope to others. We make that happen by imagining the world as it will be, repaired and redeemed, and we work every day towards that end. We love our neighbors by lifting them up, by sharing a kind word, by feeding the hungry, by clothing the naked, by caring for the orphan, for the foster, for the widow and for ALL those less fortunate and in need. In kindness, we bring hope to the broken.
And so, may our efforts join with those from all over the world to bring restoration, to bring comfort, to bring knowledge of Yeshua, and an end to brokenness. May our efforts bring hope to those in desperate need. And may the joyful celebration of Tisha b’Av and, all that implies, come soon.