This coming Motzaei Shabbat, Saturday night, is Tisha B’Av, the fast of the 9th Av. After the Maariv service, we will read the book of Eicha, Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah’s lament for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of our people.
The book begins with the words, Eicha Yashva Vadad, “How is it, that the city, once so full of people, dwells alone?”
What does this phrase, “dwells alone” mean?
It could mean that the city, once bustling with people, is now deathly silent, as its inhabitants are in exile.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, the one-time head of the Yeshiva I attended in Israel, Yeshivas Mir, offers a different explanation. “To be Jewish,” he said, “is to be a giver.” Our souls have a need to be able to give to others. When we are deprived of that need, our spirits are crushed. Our identity, our essence is thwarted. When Jerusalem was under siege, people could think only of their own survival. They stopped reaching out to others. They became the city that “dwelt alone”, each survivor isolating to focus on his or her life rather than care about others.
When we can rise to help those around us, we are nurturing our spiritual essence.
At the beginning of this week, the Israeli Rescue Team that had been volunteering in Surfside, Miami, finished its tour of duty. These professionals had dropped everything, flew out to Miami, to participate in the mission to locate survivors. Their bravery and dedication made an impact on the rest of the rescue effort. While they were unable to find anyone alive, their selfless devotion to their cause makes us all proud to be Jews.
There is a story about a student called Mike, whose highly successful older brother gave him a brand new car for his birthday one year. One day, when he was leaving uni, Mike found a street kid walking around his shiny new car, admiring it.
“Is this new car yours?” he asked.
“Yes it is,” Mike said. “My brother gave it to me.”
The kid looked astonished. “You mean, your brother gave it to you, and it didn’t cost you anything? Boy, I wish…”
He hesitated. Mike smiled. He knew what was coming next. But what the boy actually said took Mike’s breath away.
“I wish I could be a brother like that,” the kid said.
When we reach out to help those around us, we become the best version of ourselves.