(Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630, Rembrandt van Rijn)
Five years ago, on July 20, 2010, which coincided with the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The day of fasting to remember collective tragedy became the anniversary of the day my life changed forever as well. My personal feelings of desolation and destruction mirrored the words of the scroll of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av,
“Your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?” (Jeremiah, 2:13)
At the time, my ruin felt as vast as the sea. And yet…here I am. Five years renders no guarantee, and none of us, not those of us who’ve traversed the fields of illness nor those who’ve been left unscathed, know the future. But five years is five years. Years of raising children to adulthood, of love and of professional and personal fulfillment. Five very full years during which time I’ve healed, and witnessed much growth and happiness. Reconstruction borne out of destruction, for which I am ever grateful.
In another fine twist of fate, I’m privileged to reach my fifth year of health during a Sabbatical, a Shmitta year, here in Israel, also a message of healing. The Sabbatical year is agricultural in practice (land must lie fallow once every seven years, to replenish itself,) but the philosophy is one of social justice. Land is deemed ownerless, debts are forgiven and everyone partakes freely of the bounty of the land. We are all only borrowers of the land, and once every seven years we relinquish control and all stand together, as equals. The medieval scholar, Maimonides, writes that the commandments of the Sabbatical year are ‘meant to lead to pity and promoting the well-being of all men, as the Torah states, “That the poor of your people may eat.” (Shemot 23:11)
One of the highlights of these last five years has been the creation and growth of the Lemonade Fund, www.lemonadefund.org, the Israel Breast Cancer Emergency Relief Fund. In less than four years, the Lemonade Fund has helped many impoverished Israeli breast cancer patients with emergency financial aid during their illness.
The world has rarely seemed so perilous from the outside. This Tisha B’Av, talk of complete destruction (the nuclear kind) is up close and personal here in Israel. Antisemitism is epidemic throughout the world. Yet Talmudic sources claim that the cause of the downfall of Jerusalem, and all subsequent tragedies, came from within. We were not caring, even worse, we were hateful to one another. We followed the letter of the law but we cared not for justice, fairness or kindness.
The joint lessons of Tisha B’Av and the Sabbatical year are that we must be worthy of this national home we are fortunate to have after 2000 years of exile. We must work to maintain a society that is just and kind. To be inclusive rather than rejecting; reaching out to others who are different than us. To listen. To be patient. To be kind. To help those who are more unfortunate in a way that preserves their dignity. To be concerned about the welfare of those living within our borders. To reduce socioeconomic disparity. To avoid humiliating others, to avoid senseless hatred. …There are limitless ways to build a better world.
Just as the body can heal, societies can be repaired. Jeremiah rings hopeful at the end.
“I will bring them back to this place and cause them to live in safety. They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one path, that they may always honor Me, and that all may go well with them and their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing them good, and I will inspire them to be in awe of Me, never turning away from Me. I will rejoice in doing good for them; and will assuredly plant them in this land with all My heart and soul.” (Jeremiah, 32:37-41)
Wishing you all an easy fast and many years of health and happiness.