A Talmudic story: When the Roman army attacked Israel and the Temple was nearly destroyed on the 9th of Av, a young priest climbed up to the top of the roof of the Temple and threw the keys to the main gate up in the air, saying, “Master of the Universe! Since we have not been true custodians, we return the keys to You!” At that moment, a heavenly hand came down and took the keys” (Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 29a).
The story fits with the general rabbinic notion that the Temple was destroyed, and our people exiled because we had ceased to be “good custodians.” Our ancestors were no longer loyal to the Covenant with God and they had abandoned the values that give our lives meaning. On Tisha B’Av, we reflect not on the sacking of the Temple, nor even on the pain of exile. Rather, the day is given to contemplating the terrible effects of gratuitous hatred, and on the consequences of abandoning our people’s commitment to caring for the weak, the needy and the vulnerable. The day is solemn and mournful and is commemorated by a 24-hour fast and the reading of the Book of Lamentations with its haunting melody.
The Talmudic story about returning the keys to God should have relevance for us especially this week, as our nation has witnessed a shocking wave of violence and murder. The killing of 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, followed the next day by the killing of 9 people in Dayton, Ohio are the latest mass murders in America. We should all be horrified that these two episodes were the 254th and 255th mass killings in 2019, more than the number of days in the year so far. We should be incensed that one of the killers was motivated by a White Supremacist ideology and was likely acting in response to anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric that is all too common nowadays from our national leaders. We should fiercely combat the tendency to become numb to such violence. In a few days, the news cycle will move past these killings and onto something else, but only if we are complicit in forgetting about them.
But perhaps most importantly, we must affirm that we wish to be good custodians of our nation and of our society. We must demonstrate respect for all life, even when we don’t personally know the victims of mass killings that take place far away from our homes and our community. We must be good custodians of our children’s safety and their future. If we want gun violence to stop and the senseless killing to end, we must become activists for change. We must raise our voices to our elected representatives and demand that they act. If we want White Supremacist hate to be obliterated and racism and xenophobia to be dwarfed, we must protest these ugly expressions with our entire being.
Otherwise, we should relinquish the keys and admit that we’ve failed to be good custodians of the world God has entrusted to our care.
I encourage you to be present at Oheb Shalom for this year’s commemoration of Tisha B’Av. Here’s the schedule:
Saturday, August 10
6:30 PM- Mincha service
7:00 PM- Light dinner to precede the fast
7:30 PM- Presentation by Gillian Perry, author of The Legacy of Anne Frank
8:30 PM- Reading of Eicha
Sunday, August 11
9:00 AM- Shacharit service (tallit and tefillin are not worn)
1:45 PM- Mincha (tallit and tefillin are worn)