I know that the close of this Shabbat will bring the fast of Tishah Be’Av with its deep sadness and anxiety; I know that from when the month of Av begins until the fast is over joy should be diminished, but…
But - whoever went out to watch Leslie Lyndon running with the Olympic Torch will have experienced the happy interruption of that sombre mood. It was a most wonderful, doubly moving experience.
The occasion was moving for its own sake. To see the streets lined with people enjoying each other’s company and the glorious day, chatting to those they knew and those they didn’t know, children, teenagers, whole families, babies, the able and the disabled, older people (the lady who carried the torch shortly before Leslie was a hundred); to live in a country where people of all colours and faiths can gather in peace; to listen to the crowds cheering everyone, the outriders, cycle-riders, police and the floats with dancers, the vans of previous runners and those yet to run; to witness everything graciously organised in a smiling, calm, under-stated manner; - all this was a blessing not to be taken for granted. New North London was out in its hundreds; never have I felt so confident of an early minyan.
Then to see you, Leslie, with your typical beaming smile, holding the torch high in both hands, running up the hill: – I wonder how many of us cried for joy and love of you and all your family. Then you stopped, and lit the torch for the subsequent runner – I’m not sure what the berachah ought to be, lehadlik ner shel humanity? – and you were back in the arms of your friends and family. We’ll never ever let you live the experience down!
The choice of such a large and diverse group of people to carry the Olympic flame was an act of genius, for it burns now with the courage, inventiveness, skill, determination and generosity of them all. We wandered home afterwards slowly, touched by a different vision. That’s how it’s been throughout the streets and cities of this country.
And so to Tishah Be’Av, with its laws of mourning and fasting, the very opposite of that cheerful scene, the day when it isn’t even permitted to say shalom to one another but we merely acknowledge each other’s presence in semi-silence, the day we sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the deaths of communities.
Yet there is an all-important connection.
There are many reasons for remembering calamity. We recall the destruction of the first and second Temples, the expulsions from England and Spain, the book burnings and the persecutions, so that the deaths of people like ourselves are still mourned, so that we don’t forget, so that we learn from history for the sake of our own people and all other peoples. But perhaps most deeply of all, by reflecting on destruction we are taught to appreciate the importance of creation and the privilege of life, our own life and the lives of others, the lives and livelihoods of neighbourhoods and cities we live in, the fruitfulness of the landscape around us, the fields and forests on the breathing of which we depend.
‘It’s a wonderful world’, if we don’t destroy it. Life is miraculous, if we don’t kill it. These are the lessons of Tishah Be’Av. How privileged we are to live in streets where we can celebrate together! How devotedly we must nurture and share that privilege!