We are about to observe our one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-forty-first Tisha b’Av fast (written in 2011 – Ed.) since the destruction of the Second Temple. 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...is to grow cynical and stop hoping.

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

1) The first rule is to give space to the voice of our dissatisfaction. Our Tradition requires that of us: a) Our thrice-daily Amida prayer is a litany of lacks and requests. b) At midnight, tzadikim 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 people-hood, and ruined Temple. We step into glass-half-empty consciousness and spend the day embracing its (albeit partial) truth.

2) 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 come. That is not in question. But whether he will come today is based on the factors mentioned.)

...the upshot of every tikun is expanded awareness...

3) Rule three, is to accept the present circumstance unconditionally, knowing that "everything G‑d does is for good." (Berachot 60b) Without a doubt, this is the gentlest way that could possibly be devised to bring about a necessary tikun. 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.

4) 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 chashmal5 — 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.6

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.7

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?8

...there is an invisible reservoir of merit and consciousness that grows fuller with each day.

If, as Tradition maintains, Mashiach is to reflect the spiritual level of the generation, then only an era free of sin and devoted to God should merit redemption. Although our generation does not seem to meet that standard, nevertheless, 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.

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