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Devarim 5780 ~ July 24, 2020

This evening at services we will sing a special melody for L’cha Dodi, that is traditionally used the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av (the Ninth day of Av). It is the melody for Eli Tziyon, a kinah, an elegy, that is sung during services on the Ninth day of Av. It is one of those unique tunes that many of us, strangely anticipate on this Shabbat.

One would expect a dirge for a melody, considering that we are about to memorialize what may be considered one of the saddest days in Jewish history – the destruction of not one, but the two Batei Mikdash in Jerusalem. We mourn the destruction of both the Temple of King Solomon and the Temple of Ezra and Nehemiah, almost two millennia later, as though it happened to us yesterday. That is something that is inherent in our teachings and our religious heritage, not only not to forget, but to consider it as though we were there in history.

We might not be wrong in that expectation of the modality of melodies when we read the words of Eli Tziyon. It should evoke that pit of emptiness and loss reflective of the destruction of the Temples. The rabbis including other events occurring on the Ninth of Av, including the twelves spies return from the scouting out the Promised Land with a thumbs down report that is referenced in our Torah reading this Shabbat, and the acceptance of the Final Solution by the Nazis that began the Shoah. The kinah suggests that we mourn as does a woman in her labor pains and a woman who is dressed in sackcloth, mourning her present state and seeking the husband of her youth. Yet, the tune is melodic and pleasant to the soul.

I have often wondered why I gain inspiration from the melody, when I should be full of sorrow and lament. Then, just the other evening, as I sat socially distanced with congregants in their backyard, we discussed the memories of Tisha B’Av. Once again, strange as it may seem, we all spoke of fond memories of being at summer camp or on trips to Israel on Tisha B’Av. As we shared our memories, there were smiles and a reflection of good memories, rather that one of mourning.

So, I went back and reread Eli Tziyon, and found that if I read it with a different mindset, it was not that I was mourning, but yearning, figuratively seeking those memories of youth and wishing to relive them. Even though we know that is impossible, I’m certain that we all do that in our personal thoughts as we recount our stories of living.

Yearning is quite different than mourning. It suggests hope rather than despair. It evokes a mindset, not of Jerusalem and a Temple destroyed, but of the beauty of the current vibrant Jerusalem. It is visualizing thriving neighborhoods, shops on Ben Yehuda street, , houses of study, synagogues, children playing in the street and playgrounds and yearning for the next season of Netflix’s Shtisel. And it brings back memories of Tisha B’Av in the plaza of the Kotel or a park in Safed, leading USYers in humming the melody and singing its lyrics. That arouses that sense of hope.

It is that similar expression that is found in our daily reading of Psalm 147 in our morning prayer:

Adonai rebuilds Jerusalem, gathers Israel’s disperse,

Heals the brokenhearted, binds up their wounds,

And numbers the stars, giving each one a name.

Those countless stars were the promise of G-d to Abraham. A promise for the future for the countless generations that will continue to follow. And generations that continue to build Jewish life around the globe and an especially thriving Jerusalem, and Israel. Perhaps as we sing this evening the melody of Eli Tziyon, while we contemplate Tisha B’Av and the mourning of the Jerusalem of Temple Days, let us yearn in a new way for the past as a hope for the future conveying reflections that create internal positive feelings within our souls.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782