It was last Shabbat in the Golan Heights when I had a profound and timely experience: Being in the land that was bequeathed to Reuven, Gad and Manasseh, while we read the Torah portion that discusses it (Num. 32:33), right before Tisha b’Av, the day in which we deal with the destruction of that area.
I was asked to address the youth in an agricultural community on Shabbat afternoon, and was honestly a bit hesitant. It is one thing to share my story with American educators and students: I grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that comes with a unique perspective that is very valuable in the diaspora. But it is quite another to speak to kids who grew up in the land, and perhaps even take it for granted?
That is when I thought about Superman and Tisha b’Av, a concept which I have used in summer camp, and which has worked with kids and teenagers on several occasions, with surprising effects. So what is this idea?
Tisha b’Av brings out the worst in religion: Suffering, mourning, synagogue and fasting, and the best part is, it is in the midst of the summer vacation. No swimming for over a week!
It is a challenge to engage youth who are already jaded or perhaps overstimulated from attempts to make Judaism alive, relevant and meaningful to them. And yet, I find Tisha b’Av to be a special opportunity to do exactly that – if I prompt the question of relevance from the start.
The talk with the youth revolved around two main ideas.
- Tisha b’Av has the status of Mo’ed – generally understood as a ‘holiday’, but clearly not a happy one. Mo’ed actually means “an appointment in time” (e.g. Gen. 18:14), and just as Passover is a time for Freedom, and Sukkot is a time for Joy, Tisha b’Av is an annual meeting in time. But a time for what? For loss, mourning and destruction (Lam. 1:15)
- Tisha b’Av didn’t happen because we cried. We cried because it was Tisha b’Av. Just as we say that we left Egypt on Nissan because it is a time of redemption, so too all of the ‘bad stuff’ is associated with Tisha b’Av, because it is a designated time for destruction. Why? Why do we need such a time?
Superman and Smallville
Background: The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El and his mother Lara, moments before Krypton’s destruction…. Discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Early in his childhood, he displays various superhuman abilities, which, upon reaching maturity, he resolves to use for the benefit of humanity through a “Superman” identity (from Wikipedia: Superman).
The main idea: Upon discovering his true identity, Kal-El / Clark Kent’s ambitions and life goals change. He is imbued with deep purpose, and knows that life as he knew it was no longer the same.
The idea of Tisha b’Av is an awakening, a profound realization that all of the symbols that we hold dear, from the Promised Land to the Two Temples in Jerusalem – could be lost. As long as we have not fulfilled our full potential, there is no compromise. We cannot settle for mediocrity.
It is painful. It is cruel. It is uncompromising. And precisely because of that, it is the most meaningful holiday, and the most hopeful. Jewish tradition says that the Messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. It tells us that we have a superpower, that we are meant for greatness, and that we should never compromise.
May this be the last Tisha b’Av in mourning. May we merit to bask in the Light of Truth, and rejoice in the true beauty of a united and rebuilt Jerusalem.
Some of the youths’ responses (translation, and Hebrew below):
My takeaway is that I will never give up until I find myself in a place where I am making a difference, and fully utilizing my capabilities
…that I am really part of something big, whether it is the Jewish People or Humanity as a whole
Truth be told, it was one of the more interesting discussions, it…gave me a different perspective on Tisha b’Av and also on our lives as a whole in Eretz Yisrael, and that we need to appreciate our lives here…