Tisha B’Av & Eid al-Adha

Palestinian worshipers protest Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount
Palestinian worshipers protest Jewish visitors on The Temple Mount

ewish and Muslim holidays often overlap, but this year we have a particularly uncomfortable conjunction.

Today is the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the darkest and most potent day in Jewish history, when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed twice (the first in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II the second in 70 CE by Titus). It’s also the date identified with the destruction of the Judean city of Beitar in 135 CE by the Emperor Hadrian during the Bar Kokhba revolt, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were massacred or starved, thousands were enslaved and large parts of Judea were laid to waste.

Many Jews across the world are fasting today from sunset to nightfall — just over 24 hours of mourning and searching deep within ourselves to touch the traumatic loss that we’re all carrying in some way.

The loss is truly profound. For Jews, the Temple was the umbilical cord of the world; it housed the Divine Presence and served as the vessel of connection between all the worlds of creation. There is no substitute for its foundational importance in Jewish thought and spirituality: not ethnicity, not language, and not culture, but the desire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple united every Jewish community — from China to Portugal, from Ethiopia to Lithuania — for the past 1900 years.

When the instructions for the Mishkan (or Tabernacle), the desert prototype of the Temple in Jerusalem, were first given, the Divine voice says:

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃

And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.

בְּתוֹכָֽם is both “among” and “within them” — not “within it”. The purpose of the Mishkan wasn’t for the Divine Presence to rest in it, i.e. the physical structure, but rather among them, the people of Israel, among and within the community itself — within each and every individual. The physical structure of the Tabernacle itself and the Divine Presence within the individual are intimately connected; one can’t exist without the other.

In other words, when the Divine can’t rest within the deepest chambers of the human psyche, it certainly can’t dwell among them in a physical structure.

The root of the destruction of the Temple, then, has always been within ourselves, in the ruins of our internal temples that are too polluted and wounded to house the Divine. When our hearts are “impure” — full of hatred, division, anger and pain — the Divine Presence can’t reside.

Women pray at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av, early morning July 16, 2013. (Miriam Alster / Flash90/File)

This is a heavy burden for us all to bear, because it means that the possibility of repair depends on us and us alone, on our willingness and ability to transform our hatred, violence, ignorance and arrogance, and rebuild our internal temples. When we finally do it, however, our sages said that this day will be transformed from mourning to great joy, from sorrow to feasting — we’ll merit a new and final meeting-point: a new Temple.

For Muslims and Druze, today is the first day of Eid Al-Adha, or “the Festival of the Sacrifice”. The joyous holiday marks both the end of the annual Hajj to Mecca and the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son (there’s a debate within Islamic sources about which son it was, Ismail or Ishaq, but the traditional consensus decided on Ismail) as an act of obedience to God’s command. But, before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son, Allah stops him and provides a lamb to sacrifice instead. It was only a test, and Ibrahim passed with flying colors.

Palestinian people carrying sheep, camels, cows and goats to a local livestock market in the West Bank city of Hebron on August 9, 2019. /VCG Photo

In commemoration of Ibrahim’s friendship with Allah and the miraculous Divine intervention to save Ismail, a sheep is sacrificed and usually divided into three parts: one for the poor, another for the immediate family, and the third for extended family.

A Palestinian man throws his child in the air following Eid al-Adha prayers on al-Haram al-Sharif, August 21, 2018. Ammar Awad/Reuters

While we’re mourning the antithesis of the Abrahamic Divine-human relationship today, our Muslim and Druze neighbors are celebrating it at its zenith. While we weep on the floor, they rejoice, play music, light fireworks and feast with family and friends. A starker contrast couldn’t be found. But maybe, there’s an important message in this uncomfortable juxtaposition.

Most Religious Jews usually begrudge the Muslim presence on the Temple Mount. It’s a temporary obstacle at best. They envision the Temple being rebuilt as if the Muslims will just disappear like a bad dream, as if they have no stake in the future here.

This always baffles me.

The entire prophetic vision of the Temple in Jerusalem is a house of prayer for all nations:

כִּ֣י בֵיתִ֔י בֵּית־תְּפִלָּ֥ה יִקָּרֵ֖א לְכָל־הָעַמִּֽים׃
For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Hasn’t Islam made this prophesy closer to reality? The same 1.8 billion Muslims in the world who pray to the same God of Abraham, yearn for the same Divine Presence that the Temple is meant to house, and see Jerusalem as a holy city — our same Palestinian neighbors who clashed with IDF forces and Jewish visitors on Al Haram Al Sharif today — are the exact same people who will rejoice, pray, connect and feast with us on the Temple Mount if we do the work to bring that reality.

With this perspective, maybe Tisha B’av and Eid Al Adha coinciding can serve as an unexpected opportunity to envision celebrating the Abrahamic Divine-human relationship at its best with our Muslim neighbors — and give us a rare glimpse into the destined festival of joy that awaits all of us on this day.

May we merit to see that day quickly and transform the bitter pain of our current reality into the sweetness of much better days.

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