Thursday, September 08, 2011

Parshat D'varim 5771: Tisha B’Av and Marriage.

This is my Auf Ruf D'var Torah at Emanuel Congregation and Congregation Or Chadash Erev Shabbat August 5 2011

Marriage...Marriage is what brings us here together today.

If there is any movie that my whole family likes it's The Princess Bride, where that quote comes from. At its core was a story of true love between a princess and a pirate. True love brings us together today too.

This week in Torah we begin Deuteronomy, where we find Moses beginning his farewell speech, since he will not cross the Jordan with the people into the Promised Land. Moses starts by reviewing the book of Numbers from the time of leaving Sinai, through the episode of the spies to the defeat of Kings Sihon and Og along with their Kingdoms.

This is also the Shabbat before The 9th of Av, Tisha B'Av in Hebrew, part of the cycle where we commemorate the destruction of the temple. This portion and its associated Haftarah are read always on the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av.
For me personally this is full circle. Thirty two years ago, I read Shelach Lecha, the portion of the spies as my Bar Mitzvah portion. I was the first in my family’s generation to be called to the Torah. Here I am the last to be married. Like the Israelites I read about in that portion, I was terrified, so terrified I did not even give a D'var Torah. D’varim this week reviews that episode of the ten out of twelve spies giving bad reports about the land.

There is a Midrash [taanit 29a, numbers rabbah xvi:20] that tells the evening the spies gave their report was the 9th of Av. During the night of the 9th, we read in this week's portion
27 You murmured in your tents, and said: 'Because the LORD hated us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.[Deut. 2]

God, in anger for this needless whining, apparently decreed: "They cry over nothing! I’ll give them something to cry about!" So the 9th of Av is the worst day in the Jewish Calendar. Both Temples were destroyed on the Ninth of Av, and the Spanish expulsion of the Jews started on the 9th of Av. The number of events related to the 9th of Av are innumerable.

Usually the Hebrew calendars and secular calendars do not match in dates. In a curious coincidence this year, August and Av match in their dates. The 9th of Av is on August 9th, and the 6th of Av is august 6th. August 6th and 9th 1945 is if course a date known to most of us: The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now since the Hebrew calendar did not match the secular one in 1945, there is another connection to the Manhattan project: The test firing of the first Atomic bomb at Trinty site on the 6th of Av 5705, or in the secular calendar July 16,1945.

When planning our wedding, we found out about this, and some other issues about the 6th and 9th of Av. While I knew about Treblinka's ovens and gas chambers getting fired up for the first time on the 9th of Av, I did not know about the 6th of Av 5702, July 23, 1942. The Gila River relocation camp, the fifth of the Japanese Internment Camps was opened on a barren patch of stolen Native American territory. 13,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes in California to Arizona to what FDR himself called a concentration camp.

While it has no connection to the month of Av, as a computer scientist, one of my heroes is of course Alan Turing, a man I had pause to think about a lot lately. One of the most brilliant men of the 20th century, he arguably did more to advance computer science than anyone else. He also was responsible for a lot of what was necessary to break German codes, and helped the Allies to defeat the Nazis. Yet less than a decade after the war he was arrested and convicted by the British government he so heroically assisted in wartime of the crime of merely being gay. In June of 1954, he took his own life with a poisoned apple. Turing’s story was really my first exposure to what the GLBT community has dealt with throughout history. I’m too aware today, there are still those who hurt and oppress those who are part of the GLBT community.

I think about all these horrible things and cry. It's hard to think about all of that and not cry. To know how much racism and hate continues, that it appears to become more and more institutionalized once again like it did in the 30's and 40's makes me cry. That was, according to the Midrash God’s idea, but it should not just make Jews cry. It should make everyone with a heart and soul cry. Indeed that might be the real motivation behind the 9th of Av: to prove you really do have a heart and soul, you have to cry. Until you cry you cannot truly repent as we approach the season of repentance. Not like I haven’t been crying this year. Without all this historical tragedy, Sunny and I have been crying for the last seven months since the loss of my mom in a totally senseless illness and death. I’ve been crying a lot in the last two weeks. I miss her so much as Sunny and I do what planning and preparation we need to do for next weeks wedding -- much of it she would have done with us or done herself. Grief I buried seven months ago is at the surface now.

Yet, It gets better, and you know why?

Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. True Love brings us together today. Because that's the good part of any story, of any fairy tale. This is the second Auf Ruf in two weeks. Ours is nothing special compared to the one last week right here. There are now civil unions here in Illinois. There is the marriage for anyone who chooses to in New York. Last week’s celebration here is one I hope we as a community repeat many Shabbats with many people. Unfortunately we only have half the battle fought, I do look forward to the day when I can say anyone in these congregations can be Married.

Through all that crying I see Treblinka and Auschwitz, Camp Grenada and Gila River, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the latest bullying incident and the insane homophobic statements of politicians and pundits. All go back to what Moses was doing with this week’s cliff notes version of the book of Numbers. To make a short statement objectifies us; it places us in a box. It’s easy to kill or hate something in a box when all you see is the box. For all you know there really isn't anything in the box - it is a mere idea, and you really aren’t hurting anything significant.

The world and the media tells us that we are to fit into a box. Marry someone of the opposite gender, have 2.5 kids and a house in the suburbs, some cars and a widescreen TV. Have a job and be loyal to your company. Have friends that also are in the box. If people do not fit in the box, make them uncomfortable or hurt them until they do.

Funny thing is, such a box a lie -- worse, it is a superficial crust. None of us really fit into that box. Many of us here cringe about even going near that box. Yet we often find ourselves in boxes. Everyone is put into boxes, willingly or unwillingly, and sometimes we find the boxes named not very complimentary names. These generalizations celebrate walls and boundaries. In doing so, generalities give birth to divisions between people. Taxonomies might be good for classifying insects, but what of people?

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in Who is Man?
Generalization, by means of which theories evolve, fails in trying to understand man. For in dealing with a particular man, I do not come upon a generality, but upon individuality, a person. It is precisely the exclusive application of generalities to human situations that accounts for many of our failures... my existence as an event is an original, not a copy. No two human beings are alike. A major mode of being human is uniqueness. (Heschel, 37)

We are told in Mishnah Sanhedrin we are all unique and all in Gods image. We are all unique, and we can communicate that uniqueness, our bit of holiness by telling stories, by including others in the narratives of our lives. It is harder to be heartless to someone you know their story, and that you tell yours. That is what Moses is doing in D’varim -- telling his story from his perspective.

We all have stories. I know a story of Shlomo and a princess. Shlomo met the most beautiful princess he ever saw but he had been cursed by an evil witch to be quaking in fear around princesses. He wished he could be close to the princess but she had other suitors, and she rarely noticed him. So the princess went away to a far off land and he thought he would never see her again. Shlomo spent many years learning to break the curse, and in time, he did. One cold wintery day he gets a message from the princess. He responds, and then she responds back. He learns she is in another faraway land, a land of seas and cloud and rain -- and really good coffee. They travel to each other several times until they decide to be together. And in one very hot, wet summer, they get married. I don’t yet know if they live happily ever after, but I for one am excited to find out with my princess, my true love.

Marriage, marriage is what brings us together today. May He who blessed our ancestors bless us with marriage and true love that will bring us together for many more Shabbats like this one and last week’s, with many more people and their stories, with civil unions now and weddings for whoever wants one soon.

Shabbat Shalom.

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