Tisha b’Av, 5771 / 2011

Tisha B’Av 5771 / 2011

Sarah Yehudit Schneider

We are about to observe our one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-forty-first (1,941st ) Tisha b’Av fast.  That amounts to a lot of hope…and a lot of disappointment. Although mashiach1 could come in any moment, the Talmud declares that Tisha B’Av is the day most suited to his birth.2 Each year our hopes rise, and each year they have been dashed.

The natural tendency, with such a precedent of disappointment, is to grow cynical and stop hoping. Sadly, many have done exactly that, often unbeknownst to themselves. They perform the rites of Tisha b’Av, observe its mourning, wring out a few tears and profess confidence that this will be the year that our fast turns to feast. But really…in their heart of hearts, they don’t honestly believe that now could be the moment. They are jaded by 1,941 disappointments. One can hardly blame them.3

The question becomes: How do we hope for mashiach with certain faith that he REALLY could materialize at any moment—weeping for the sorry state of our reality without him; and yet also find a way to embrace our present moment (despite his no-show) with unconditional acceptance. This becomes the prototype of how to process all of our longings—both personal and collective —in a way that does not exhaust the heart and produce despair.4

  • The first rule is to give space to the voice of our dissatisfaction. Our Tradition requires that of us: a) Our thrice-daily Amida, is a litany of lacks and requests. b) At midnight tsadikim break their sleep to bewail our fallen state. c) And on one whole day of the year (Tisha b’Av) we sit on the floor and mourn our broken lives, fractured peoplehood, and ruined Temple. We step into glass-half-empty consciousness and spend the day embracing its (albeit partial) truth.
  • The second rule is to know with the certainty of faith that success is truly an option—that if mashiach could come today and we would still be able to fulfill our personal and collective missions, then he will come today, and nothing could hold him back. There is only one reason that mashiach will not appear this year on Tisha b’Av (or any other “today”), and that is if his arrival would (inadvertently) prevent the actualization of some potential that must occur for Creation’s purpose to succeed. (Mashiach will That is not in question.  But whether he will come today is based on the factors mentioned.)
  • Rule three, is to accept the present circumstance unconditionally, knowing that “everything HaShem does is for good.”5 Without a doubt, this is the gentlest way that could possibly be devised to bring about a necessary And the upshot of every tikun is expanded awareness and that (i.e. growing consciousness) is the only true and enduring pleasure. The new increment of awareness that became available in this (imperfect) moment will actually produce more joy, peace and soul-satisfaction, then the blessing for which we yearned.
  • Rule four is to dance back and forth between the aching (of #1) and the acceptance (of #3), all the while keeping the faith-vision (of #2) as a steady background presence. This is the secret of chashmal6—the kabbalistic technique of embracing paradox by oscillating between contrary truths, which, in this case, are longing and acceptance, though on Tisha b’Av we emphasize the longing (and the pain which prompts it), whereas on Shabbat we emphasize the opposite pole of acceptance.7

Yet this dance only works if we embrace each viewpoint fully when we stand in its shoes—at that moment it becomes the whole truth. Yet like a propeller that spins so fast it appears still, this alternation of perspectives produces a gestalt that jiggles the mind open to higher truths.  It is not just a mental exercise, but a spiritual practice.

The third element of the chashmal dance—the faith vision (of rule #2)—requires us to know that mashiach could come in any instant though Tisha B’Av (which is just around the bend) is an especially propitious moment. Yet, as the Ramchal points out in his famous dialogue between the heart and the intellect, it is possible to “believe” yet not be whole with that belief.

heart to intellect: There are some Principles of Faith which I believe and understand well, and others which, although I believe them, they are still not clear to me through understanding and comprehension.8

Belief in mashiach’s imminent arrival requires us to accept that a discontinuous shift in reality is not only possible, but likely even though the world appears to be moving in the opposite direction.  Nuclear armament threatens the planet’s existence; materialism is rampant; morality is crumbling; Jews are assimilating in numbers approaching the Holocaust; economies are collapsing; terrorism is increasing.  How could a generation such as this merit the consummate reward of witnessing the redemption?9

While the story that follows is (perhaps) more myth than science, there is a growing body of supportive evidence that lends credence to the principle.  Its model of leaps and apparently discontinuous shifts in process forms the basis of such respectable theories as punctuated evolution and catastrophe theory.  Nevertheless, the story, as told by Lyall Watson, and reproduced below, is a teaching devise.  Some claim that it is woven more from inspired vision than hard facts.  Science is still building its case of verification.  Though the paradigm has not yet been proven true, at least on the level of consciousness, it has also not been proven false . . . or even unlikely.


There are international research stations on several islands off the coast of Japan to study the behavior of a particular species of monkey indigenous to that area.  The program has been running since the 1940’s, and extensive data has been gathered on the subject.  In befriending the animals, the researchers began a custom, which continues to this day, of providing the monkeys with sweet potatoes.  The scientists drop the potatoes in the sand and the animals collect them and eat them dirt and all.  It was clear, however, that while they enjoyed the taste of the potato, they found the adhering sand unpleasant.

One day, on one island, an observer saw a monkey take her sweet potato and instead of eating it as usual, covered with grit, the monkey carried it to a stream and washed off the dirt before she ate it.  Shortly thereafter she taught her mother, and soon most of the monkeys on that island were taking their sweet potatoes down to the water and washing them before eating them.

This snowballing replication of some new but adaptive behavior within a community of animals is commonplace and in itself would not be noteworthy.  Yet something very curious happened when the “hundredth monkey”11 to acquire this behavior dug up his potato and took it to the shore.  Shortly thereafter, scientists on two other widely separated islands reported that monkeys there curiously began to take their potatoes down to the seashore to wash them.

The implications are startling.  It attests to an unconscious reservoir of information and motivation that is common and jointly accessible to all members of a particular species.  Although this is a controversial idea in biology, it is old news in psychology and religion.  Jung called it the collective unconscious while Judaism calls it a “group soul” or nefesh clallit.12  It is the repository of memory – recording and compiling the experiences of all the individuals of that species.  Its base of operations is below the surface, in the deepest regions of unconsciousness, even below the level of individual subconsciousness.

Yet at some point, when a critical number of individuals come to the same understanding or alter their behavior in a particular way, the scale suddenly tips and this new awareness or behavior pokes through into consciousness, exerting a visible and tangible influence on the species as a whole.  Thus, even monkeys on other islands, who were neither trained to wash their food nor exposed to others who were doing so, suddenly and collectively began displaying that behavior.  Their motivation was internal and unconscious rather than the usual route – direct and external.  On the first island, one could trace the lines of influence, the gradual outspreading of an innovative behavior.  On these other islands there was an abrupt and discontinuous shift in reality – a quantum leap.  First no one washed their sweet potatoes, then many did.  There was no way of predicting that such a flip in consciousness would take place or when it might occur. Scientists figuratively identify that critical point as the “hundredth monkey.”

This is a perfect model for understanding the messianic transition.  If, as Tradition holds, mashiach is to reflect the spiritual level of the generation, then only an era free of sin and devoted to God should merit redemption.  Our generation does not seem to meet that standard.  Yet this precedent of the hundredth monkey solves the problem.  It teaches that there is an invisible reservoir of merit and consciousness that grows fuller with each day.  And at some critical point, which could be the next person who gives charity, or walks into yeshiva, or apologizes to his neighbor, or chooses the high road . . . at that critical point . . . the scale will tip and the whole nature of reality will shift tracks.  People will feel compelled from within to seek G‑d and truth and Torah with the same passion that they are now pursuing money, fame and power.  At that point the era of mashiach will begin . . . as a discontinuous shift in our socio‑cultural reality.

Let the power of our collective longing, visioning (and accepting) this Tisha b’Av tip the scale and initiate the quantum shift into growth-through-joy that is the messianic signature…and promise.


[1]  Def of Mashiach: The soul of mashiach has two dimensions. One is the enlightenment that all of creation will enjoy; and one is that there will be an individual (or more likely a couple) that will master mind and master heart this giant planetary-scale project of coordinating all of humanity into a single, smoothly operating organism, that will run as efficiently as a person’s body. According to kabbala, all of humanity, actually all of creation, is really a single partzuf, a single Adam.  In fact, one main feature of messianic consciousness is a greater awareness of our oneness in this regard.

The distinguishing feature of this individual (or couple) is that he/she/they become the point of entry for the soul of mashiach. The highest tip of our world contacts the lowest toenails of the hovering soul of mashiach, and the highest tip of our world is the person (couple), mashiach.

2 “And the spirit of G‑d hovered upon the waters.” Midrash Rabba explains that this “spirit of G‑d” hovering upon the waters is actually the “soul of mashiach,” a term that refers to the highest possible G‑d awareness / truth awareness that human beings are capable of.  The whole point of our six thousand year labor of teshuva and tikun, of trying to grow and evolve, is to stretch and refine our personal and collective vessels, so that this “spirit of G‑d”…“this soul of mashiach” can finally fit inside, embodied as the messianic golden age.  Now, it “hovers upon the waters” i.e., the shifting sands of our physical world, waiting for our vessels to evolve and expand enough to finally let it come in.  Now, our vessels are too narrow and constricted.  There’s no space for its more expansive vision to fit inside. At some point we’ll accumulate a critical mass of tikun where the joint system becomes rectified enough that his/her/their vessel can stretch the minimum amount necessary for the toe of the hovering messianic soul to actually, finally, squeeze in.  At that point the potential mashiach becomes the actual mashiach, and that is what it means that mashiach is born.

3 Psalms 102:11 “For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping…for you lift me up [by teasing me with hope], and then cast me down [by bringing disappointment instead].

4 Mishley 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

4 TB Brochot 60b “כל דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד”

5 A word that appears in Ezekiel’s vision and that is built from two paradoxical subroots: chash which means silence, and mal which means speech. Together they produce chashmal (electricity) an oscillating current that vibrates back and forth between an electric wave then a magnetic wave many times a second and this produces the phenomenon we call electromagnetism (i.e. chashmal).

6 Like a tennis player that hops from foot to foot and thus stays everready for the moment’s call, be it a forehand to the right, or backhand (to the left). So the dance (and vibration) of chashmal which happens, ideally, within every rega, readies us to emphasize longing, if that is the task at hand, like on Tisha B’Av, or acceptance, if that is the task at hand, like for example, on Shabbos (where the consciousness of the day is “All your work is done.”

7 R. Moshe Chayim Luzzato, The Knowing Heart, p.1

8Actually the Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a, b) teaches that, surprisingly, these are signs of mashiach‘s immanent arrival, and also serve, in their own backhanded way, to hasten his coming.  As the Chofetz Chaim explains, one reason for this lengthy exile is to increase merit to Israel for believing and waiting for such a long time.  Yet when it starts having the opposite effect, and people begin to lose faith from the long dark night of exile, HaShem will hasten the redemption for it has stopped serving its purpose.  (Chofetz Chaim, Tsipita L’Yeshua.).

9Lifetide by Lyall Watson, pp. 147-148.  Bantam Books, 1980.

10The number 100 is chosen arbitrarily since the actual number is not known by the scientists but only estimated by them.

12Chazzal teach of the existence of collective souls in the animal kingdom and their characteristic expression for each species in Perek Shira (The Chapter of Songs) which describes, through verses, the unique function that each animal fulfills in the world through the way it serves (or sings to) its Creator.  Their song is their level of collective consciousness, the spiritual drive that is shared by all members of a given species.

The human being has both a Divine and animal soul.  The point of unification and collective teshuva which Rav Dessler refers to is in the Divine soul and is consequently of a much higher order than the corresponding phenomenon in the animal kingdom.  Nevertheless they are parallel in operation, based on the principle of correspondence, which is most simply stated, “As above, so below.”


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