From Archbishops to Geula
It was a strange call to receive.
My friend and colleague, Rabbi Nicky Liss had a strange invitation for me.
Would I like to play cricket for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI against the Royal Household at Windsor Castle. Apparently, they wanted a couple of cricket loving Rabbis on their teams – I didn’t need any convincing – I was in.
We had to meet a mile from the ground, as security had to admit us all together. We drove in convoy through the grounds of Windsor Castle – the flag was up, so maybe her majesty would come and join us (she didn’t).
We met our fellow teammates, various priests and provosts from different parts of the country and then the game began. It was a glorious setting as God took on the Queen in a friendly encounter.
We batted first and towards the end of our innings I called for a tight single. My priestly partner did not respond quickly enough and was run out. After the innings, I approached him to apologise – he looked at me and said ‘As the clergy of the Anglican Church – I forgive you’ – that was certainly a first!
It was during our time in the field when I suddenly realised something, which very much relates to Tisha B Av that begins tomorrow night.
We were not doing very well and it looked like we were going to lose, and I then experienced something unique in my 35+ years of playing cricket matches – I really didn’t care.
Why was this strange? I have played cricket for decades and I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t care if we won or lost. I then realised why I didn’t care – I had nothing invested in this team – I didn’t really know anyone, they were lovely people but no real connection to me (except Rabbi Liss!). When I played for my school, my shul, my club- I knew the team, I felt a connection to my team mates – I cared.
We come to Sunday, to Tisha B Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, the day in which we remember all the tragedies of our long and difficult history – and we weep.
For me the tragedy of our generation overall is not persecution or physical dangers, these were the tragedies of generations past, but our tragedy is the apathy and assimilation of the present.
However, the reason for this apathy and assimilation is I believe, similar to my apathy on the cricket field this week – people don’t care, Judaism doesn’t really mean anything. We say every morning ‘Ki Haim Chayenu v orech yamenu’ It is our life and the length of our days, referring to the Torah. However, for many Jews, that simply isn’t the case – it is not their life, it may come into their lives for a couple of days a year, or even more regularly – but is not their life.
My love and passion for Judaism started from a young age, thanks to my family, my community and my school. Those early years set in motion a lifelong relationship with Judaism. I knew all my ‘teammates’, I saw them all the time, my ‘teammates’ were Shabbat, Chagim, Jewish education, Shul, Bnei Akiva etc. – I began to care deeply about Judaism, it was a major part of my life. Without that, without a continual connection to Judaism, is it no wonder that many Jews don’t feel a connection, a passion and a sense of belonging.
So when you sit on the floor this Tisha B Av and mourn for the destruction and the tragedies of the past, be thankful that you care enough to be mourning. In addition, mourn the fact that most Jews globally will not even know it is Tisha B Av.
As the Gemara says in Taanit: ‘Whoever performs labour on the Ninth of Av and does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see her future joy, as it is stated: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad with her, all who love her; rejoice for joy with her, all who mourn for her” (Isaiah 66:10). From here it is stated: Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit and see her future joy, and whoever does not mourn for Jerusalem will not see her future joy” (Taanit 30b).
I think we are reflecting the point of the Gemara – if you don’t care about Judaism, a rebuilt Jerusalem may mean nothing to you. If you have not invested time and energy into your relationship with Hashem and Torah, if you don’t feel the pain of a Tisha B Av, then what will a restored relationship mean to you when there is no real relationship to speak of.
Conversely, when you have that relationship, when Hashem and Torah are part of your life, when Tisha B Av is a painful day remembering our people, our difficult mission, our challenges and you share in the pain and the tears. Then, when that day finally comes of the Geulah, when all that you have been praying for, crying for, longing for finally comes to pass – then the feeling will be of unparalleled joy.