On that day, she let go of her life with gentle, purposeful intention. She asked the nurse for morphine and closed her eyes. On that day, we sat by her body for a long time, still seeing in it her beautiful presence.
We know the practical realities. Morphine caused her death. Heart disease caused her illness. An aging body caused her heart to weaken. The design of the human body caused her to age. But we like to focus on our intuition of her presence.
Tisha B’Av is a day for lament and a day for reflection.*
Not just for our family, but for any member of Jewish religious culture. Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of the first Temple in 586 BCE. This year, many will stand at the Kotel, still seeing in it the Temple’s awesome presence.
We know the historical explanations. The Temple fell when the invading Babylonian army sacked it. Babylonia’s philosophy of building empire through cultural destruction motivated the attack. Judah’s moral and social weaknesses made it an easy target for invasion. Conditions are different now; why would people sit in shock 2,000 years after the fall of a building?
Rabbi Yehudah Loew of Prague (1520-1609), aka the Maharal, explains. Of course we would sit silently, in shock, by our mother’s body. She lost her life, and we lost a little bit of ours. A parent is a child’s ground of being; the parent’s home is a tangible touchpoint. A child’s life is always connected with the parent’s life. Even when a child is estranged from the parent, the relationship is still key to who the child has chosen to become.
The Temple, of course, is just a building. But a building is not just a building. Architects and contractors bring it into being. And who brings them into being? God is their ground of being. Philosophers call God the “cause of causes.” God, the underlying cause of any building, is our true spiritual home. When we forget spirituality, and live only in material world of historical causes, we become estranged from our home. On Tisha B’Av, we set aside time to meditate on our how far we’ve strayed.
The antidote to estrangement, says the Maharal, is love. The Torah reading on Shabbat Nachamu (comfort) immediately after Tisha B’Av reminds us: “V’ahavta et AdoShem Eloheicha…Love HaShem your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” (Deut 6:5)
Traditionally, Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning and reflection. From now on, it will also be a day of love. A day to try to grasp what it means to love with heart, soul and might. A day to connect with the ground of my being.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Maharal.
Thanks to my study partner, Rabbi Dr. Julie Hilton Danan.