I Remember – Tisha B’Av and Devarim 1-3

This will be a short blog. Or else I will have to finish it and send it out after we return. ForI slept in. And we are on the journey to return home. What does sleeping in have to do with returning home? The latter makes me anxious – anxious to get there and anxious about returning to the familiar. Since we left Vancouver Island, we have been on the road only 10 days, but it feels like months. I have seen a part of America that I have never seen before, its absolute beauty AND its promise. But I also saw examples of its failures and even more importantly, listened to the news as we traveled and heard even more about its failures. What am I to make of it all?

Why make anything of it? It was just a trip. Interesting. Fun. Why try to make anything more of a road excursion? But I am condemned to remember. For yesterday, as we quietly rode in the car and I slept off and on, my brothers haunted me: my younger brother Stan, a driven traveler and explorer who, because of difficulty in orientation in the latter years of his life, no longer traveled. He died this spring. I remembered my older brother, Al, with whom I spent a month in Arizona, much of it in the company of my younger brother, Stan, a nurse who left his job to take care of my older brother. Together, we watched the faculties of thinking and especially remembering fade as Al desperately tried to fight off death from a blastoma and was willing to put himself in the hands of very experimental medical colleagues in Arizona to try and pull off a miracle.

Like the Biblical Joseph, I mourned the loss of my brothers, each for seven days. We lit a candle for each that burned for seven days, presumably each time to recognize the life of a brother, but, as well, to reintroduce to the world God’s light, the Shechinah, back into the world that had partially become emotionally black.

Yesterday, in late afternoon as were driving east of Denver in Colorado, the sky in front of us grew black. Lightning bolts flashed down in the distance in front of us. It began to rain, lightly at first. Then there was a shrill repeated alarm that jolted me. It turned out to have come from my wife’s cell phone. She turned it on even though we were driving and handed it to me to read the message aloud. It was a weather warning. It was a warning about very heavy rains. It was a warning about possible tornadoes.

We drove off the expressway at the next exit, drove one block and turned left at the first road and then turned left again as the rain was beginning to fall so heavily it was hard to see. We ended up in the gravel parking lot of a church, the Brakeside Church if I recall. The rain was pelting down. There was lightning everywhere. A few young people in the church saw us through the glass door. Through hand signals, a young man opened the door to invite us in. He clearly even wanted to come out to the car to get us. We were very tempted. But we could not have crossed the twenty yards to the door without getting fully soaked. And we waved him back for he would have been drenched as well. Further, we thought that the danger of lightning was too great.

As we sat huddled in the car, as the rain literally washed over the car, as we peered through the window, we saw that the cars on the road had pulled over and mostly disappeared. And this was rush hour in the suburbs of Denver. Then ping! Then ping and ping and ping. The car was being pelted with hail. What did we worry about then? The car would become dinted from the hail.

Finally, we could see light at the beauty of that sky, the rays of light penetrating the darkness to reach earth in the same ways movies portray a vision and the same way in which The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints portrayed their founder experiencing the revelation that Jesus had appointed him to be a prophet.  And this was a sign, a sign that the threat of the tornado would soon be over.

The winds began to die down. The light in the sky in front of us began to expand. We no longer felt we were in a car wash and joked that we had gotten one for free. To the east and the south of us, the sky was still black. We still heard thunder behind us, but it had become more muffled. We debated whether to run into the church to thank the teenagers for their offer of hospitality. But we could no longer see them through the door. Further, it was still raining sufficiently that, though we would no longer be threatened with being washed away, we would still be soaked if we tried to reach the door.

My wife started up the car. Suddenly, the loud and screaming alarm sounded once again. My wife grabbed her phone (she had not yet started to drive) and read, “Flood warning! Drive carefully. Watch for flooded areas. In less than half an hour, the deluge had caused flooding.

We took off determined to ride a bit further and find a motel – which we did. As we got out of the car, the sky was absolutely spectacular as the sun’s rays penetrated through a sky of broken dark and white frazzled clouds and the light reflected off those clouds in the early evening. My wife took pictures of a truly brilliant scene, but again, I have still not learned how to attach photos.

Did my memories of brothers and the opening deluge and threat of a tornado have anything to do with one another? I certainly do not think so. Did they have anything to do with Tisha B’Ava? Only in the sense that the fury of nature as I was wallowing in memories of my brothers made me think of the Day of Mourning for the Jewish people. Starting on Saturday night, tomorrow in the evening, and on the last day of our drive home on Sunday, I will fast. I will think of many of the tragedies, especially the latest ones, that have befallen the Jewish people. I will think of Dayton and El Paso.

I will not use the occasion to argue with God since I tend to do this all year round. Instead, I will continue to express my outrage against a president who is supposed to be a leader of the free world but who can only recite cant on a teleprompter and then rage through tweets at all his perceived enemies precisely at a time when the focus of his attention should be on expressing empathy for the victims and their families. He promises to consider background checks, but he has decided to focus on mental illness rather than hatred and ideology and the availability of assault weapons.

Should I not also properly focus, on the plight of Jews, on our religion, and eschew politics at this time? But my religion is about politics, is about the tragedies that afflict all of humanity. It is about the victims of Dayton and El Paso. It is about the fact that for almost three years we have been living in the eye of a tornado. It is about mourning for any diminution in the loss of light, in the loss of empathy. And for almost the last three years we have been trapped in a world in which the leader of the free world focuses on “Lock her up,” on walling off America from the “invasion” of aliens. We have been living through a deluge of anger and hatred. We have been living in a period in which a young man full of hatred and echoing the words of invasion deliberately targets and guns down Mexican-Americans.  

But there is light breaking through in front of us. Tisha B’Ava is as much about that light as it is about the mourning for loss. It is not only about fear from a darkening sky and the threat of being blown away by a powerful force that has been let loose on the world, but it is also about the break in the dark cloud that is coming. It is also about trust that I shared with my deceased brothers and the joys that life brings. Perhaps we are once again on the borders of the Promised Land. Perhaps we can recover from another.

With the help of Alex Zisman


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