the corollaries of not belonging

I tried to stay focused on the day yesterday. It was Tisha B’Av, when we Jews commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples and many other things. I’ve written about it before here and here, just in case you’re new here and interested what I’ve said before.

What I was remembering  is a feeble attempt I made 40 years ago on Tisha B’Av to write about being alien. I was visiting a friend I had made while on our junior year abroad program at the Hebrew University. She lived in San Francisco and somehow I went to see her. I don’t remember anything about the visit except sitting in her family room in the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, thinking about the word “alien.”

Now, since that time, it has come to be totally identified with science fiction and creatures from OUTER SPACE, etc. In my youth, there was this very odd, even for those days, public service address for aliens to register with the government. I looked a little for it, but couldn’t find it online. This fellow here wasn’t successful, either.  It was always shown, I think, for the month of December, telling these aliens that they had until the end of the month to register with the government. As one of the commentators says on that post (direct copy–his spelling):

As an immigrant myself I remember watching the PSA with fascintion as the endless stream of people zipped into some strange building only to emerge just as quickly out the back door with big smiles on their faces.

It was the most primitive cartoon. But clearly stuck with me and with others.

And so, 40 years ago and again today, this came to mind.

I didn’t know that I should have felt alien when I was watching that PSA. But once I came back from a year in Israel, I certainly knew that I was. I didn’t really belong there; I didn’t belong here.

But, of course, that’s what Diaspora means.

Even living in Israel is still in the time of Diaspora; of exile. Dispersion. This is indeed a trying state. Or is it just a reflection of the world around us–chaotic at all times, with just a veneer of civility. Muslims killing Muslims (etc.), Christians condemning Christians, and Jews? Well, we’re at it all over the place, in Israel and beyond. The ugliness of how people are treating each other is worthy of a word that hasn’t been coined yet. Despicable, atrocious, appalling.

And so if we are taught that (one of the reasons that) the Second Holy Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, translated as baseless hatred, we are not any further from there, are we?

The need to belong is so strong.

When you are not included, there is a strong tendency to push others away in defense, in reaction. Childish for children; destructive for adults. We are in a world full of pushing away of others. What a loss.

Yair Rosenberg has a great article in Tablet called Other People’s Sinat Chinam. He ends with this:

On Tisha B’Av, of all days, we are not meant to point to flaws outside ourselves, however apparent they may be, but rather to examine those within. After all, we can never truly know the minds and motivations of others. The only baseless hatred we can diagnose is our own.

And Ari Zivitovsky writes about whether sinat chinam is truly the cause of the destruction here and ends with this:

The Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, introduction to Sefer Bereishit) blames the destruction on excessive “righteousness,” that is, “righteous” individuals who treated others who did not exactly conform to their beliefs as heretics (apikorsim). This was, in actuality, a particular form of sinat chinam. The misplaced persecution of those people led to the destruction, because, the Netziv explains, God does not want this kind of excessive “righteousness,” but rather moral conduct in every day affairs.[8] So too, the Chofetz Chaim views sinat chinam as the starting point for the destruction but feels that it alone would not have caused the Churban. Rather the lashon hara (gossip) that followed was the cause of the destruction.[9]

In reading all of the above, one invariably faces the question of how to understand the multiple and wide-ranging rabbinic statements. What seems clear is that certainly an element of rebuke was intended. It is understood that if a particular sin led to the destruction, observing the corresponding precept is the antidote that will lead to the restoration of the Temple. Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:17) expresses this concept when he states that by observing the commandment to “Love one’s neighbor,” we will return to our Land, because this mitzvah is the opposite of sinat chinam, which is what destroyed the Second Temple. As has been demonstrated, sinat chinam is not the only offense that Chazal accuse the Jews of committing, and for a full redemption we need to rectify them all. However, because sinat chinam is such a widespread problem, it is the cause for the Churban that is most often quoted. Our prayer is that all the statements of Chazal will be taken to heart and all of the wrongdoings—sinat chinam and the other sins—will be rectified, leading to a complete and final redemption with the building of the Third, permanent Beit Hamikdash.

So really, when it comes down to it, we have to figure out how to reorient ourselves to ourselves. When we come to terms with who we really are, grounded, as it were, then we can truly reach out to others with love and acceptance.

Photo from Facebook, Princess Free Zone

Truth from bell hooks.

(image via Women Hold Up Half The Sky)

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