Can’t We Go Back To The Way It Used To Be?

Rabbi Eytan Kenter
Kehillat Beth Israel, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Coronavirus 5123202 1280
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“…renew our days as of old” (Lam. 5:21)

Can’t we go back to the way it used to be? This sentiment from Eicha, the book of Lamentations that we read every year on Tisha B’Av says it all. For so many of us, we remember with great affection a time when we could hug one another. A time where we could gather together without a mask blocking our smiles. Where our face to face conversations weren’t dependent upon the power of our internet connection.

“…Renew our days as of old“ is the very last line that we recite from Lamentations every year as we remember the pain of the exile and the lack of a home. The suffering of our people under the yolk of slavery and oppression. Being forcibly taken from our home, sitting by the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, we lamented our inability to return to our land. Tisha B’Av is designed to remind us of our deep sadness, but also remind us that there remains hope for our future, even if it can’t be (shouldn’t be?) exactly as it was before.

Tisha B’Av begins in the deepest sadness; we sit in the dark reciting the words of Eicha in the nighttime. The next morning, we cannot bear to wear our tefillin, for how could we wear a garment that celebrates and solemnizes our relationship with God, when God has abandoned us? We sit on the floor, unable to lift ourselves from the depths of our depression. By afternoon, however, the tefillin returns, a hopefulness for the future returns, and a sense of normalcy returns as well. We still fast, but begin to see a light at the end of our immensely dark tunnel.

What is fascinating, however, is that while we begin to transition back to normal, that normal isn’t the same as before. We begin with the Psalm for the Day, which we don’t do on any other day. We wear tefillin in the afternoon, a practice unique to that day. We do not return to days as of old, we renew. It is new and different, but not the same. We are renewed and restored, changed from the depths of our sadness.

Tisha B’Av this year will be observed in significant isolation and with an attempt to attune ourselves more intensely to the terrible racism and bigotry within our world. As much as we might we long to go back to the way things were, we simultaneously must realize that we cannot go back. Our world will never be the same. While we will return to something that resembles normalcy, we cannot allow ourselves to return to a time when we were not as aware as we should have been about the hatred in our world or about communities that we weren’t as inclusive of as we might have been.

“Renew our days as of old…” Let us experience again a world that is familiar; yet simultaneously, let us dedicate ourselves appropriately so as to assure that it won’t be the same as before. It will be better.

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