From Spiritual Action to Greater Acts of Justice
By Yehudah Webster
As Tisha B’Av approaches, a day of mourning the destruction of our communities from the Holy Temple until now, we are invited to confront the ongoing destructions of our communities around the country and the world. We are invited to afflict our bodies, through fasting and denying ourselves the typical comfort pleasures, so that our spiritual essence can be more present and connected with the destitute suffering that only continues to grow for those deemed worthless by society. We are invited to viscerally remember the exile and suffering of the Jewish people to help us break through our apathy and numbness and cultivate the rachamim/compassion needed to move us to the same acts of justice that would’ve prevented our exile biblically. Indeed, the spiritual action we take in the days leading up to and on Tisha B’Av are meant to lead us to a renewed commitment and follow through to deeper acts of justice. Within mussar this is the true meaning of rachamim/compassion, a “feeling with” the experience of another coupled with action of concrete care.
I’ve come to appreciate more and more the necessity of spending over a week before Tisha B’Av engaging my spiritual self. Just the one day of fasting and chanting the book of Eicha (traditional text read) isn’t enough to make a shift in my calcified heart AND bring me to following through on my deepened commitments to justice, which true rachamim/compassion requires. These spiritual exercises of mourning and denying ourselves comfort and pleasures are most impactful over a period time, as a practice.
Thus, when the month of Av begins next week on the 19th, I invite you to join me in nine days of personal and/or spiritual action: refraining from eating meat, cutting your hair, washing your clothes, or wearing leather; blowing the shofar or crying out to the Heavens each evening as was done in the 40 days of Teshuvah action; or organizing your own personal or communal spiritual action using these resources for integrating Jewish ritual and spirituality with justice. Set the intention that these nine days of spiritual action will lead you to greater acts of justice/ahavat chinam (baseless love) once Tisha B’Av is over, whether that be through community organizing, advocacy or direct service with an organization, or on your own.
As Rabbi Lauren pointed to last month, when we do acts of justice/ahavat chinam not just for mitzvah points but to “bring about the spiritual and systemic tikkun (repair) our world so desperately needs”, this can better “help us bridge the gap between our inner lives and our external work for justice.” Indeed, the Torah and the prophets of Yisrael don’t instruct the nation to appoint better judges and leaders, but rather place the responsibility on all of us: YOU feed the hungry, YOU clothe the naked. Sure, it’s of course also important to have morally attuned officials and judges, but I’m learning that we cannot and must not wait for elected officials, who are constantly compromised and seduced by power, to live out the justice of the Torah that will heal the suffering of our neighbors and communities.
I invite you to step into the practicality of spirituality as a means to fuel your rachamim/compassion, “feeling with” coupled with action, in doing your part in bringing more justice to our communities.
Chodesh Tov, Yehudah