Friday, July 20, 2007

Shaken up on Tisha b'Av, in Body & Soul

Early this morning we experienced an earthquake. Reports are that it was not too powerful, centered in Oakland on the Hayward fault, with a magnitude of 4.2. (For those who need a reference, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1) It was a big enough jolt to wake us up at a quarter to five this morning.

The last quake I felt was August one year ago. That quake was less powerful but memorable because it took place on the evening of Tisha b'Av--the time when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other dark times in our history. I was at Ner Tamid, participating in the evening service, preparing to chant Eicha, Lamentations.

This morning's quake is in that same time in the Jewish calendar. We are presently in the three-week reflective period that starts with the 17th of Tammuz and ends with Tisha b'Av, which begin this year at sundown on Monday, July 23rd.

For two years in a row, an earthquake is linked to Tisha b'Av. Today as I prepared for my chanting of the haftarah for Tisha b'Av morning--most of it chanted in the same mournful trope used for Lamentations--I was struck by the much too appropriateness of the first few verses:

I will utterly consume them, says Adonai;
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig-tree,
and the leaf is faded;
Whatever I have given them is gone.

"Why do we sit still?
Let us gather into the fortified cities,
and meet our doom there,
for Adonai our God has doomed us,
made us drink a bitter draft,
because we have sinned against Adonai.
We looked for peace, but no good came;
for a time of healing, and behold terror!'

The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
at the sound of the neighing of his steeds
the whole land quaked;
They came and devoured the land and what was in it,
The towns and those who dwelt in them.

Jeremiah 8:13 - 16

Once again, the teachings of our ancients bring us messages we can use today. No, I don't believe that God brought us an earthquake because we were bad, but the link that gives us to the words of Jeremiah should get our attention. One more reminder of the need to be mindful of the consequences when we mistreat our world and the people we share it with. The killing, both of our environment and of our fellow inhabitants, must stop. To this end, the haftarah concludes with words of help and hope and guidence toward a rightful path:

Thus said Adonai:
Let not the wise glory in wisdom;
Let not the strong glory in strength;
Let not the rich glory in riches.
There should be just one glory,
An earnest devotion to Me.
I, Adonai, act with kindness, justice, and equality in the world.
In these I delight--says Adonai....

Jeremiah 9:22 - 23

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