By Dr. Betsy Stone
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, Judaism was permanently altered. Through the courage and leadership of Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbinic Judasim was born. We moved from sacrifice to prayer, from Torah law to Rabbinic law. Ben Zakkai led us to the Talmud and the Oral Law. He is a remarkable example of a pivot.
Pivot is a word we hear used over and over again these days. We pivoted to on-line learning and Zoom meetings. We pivoted to teaching in our bedrooms and children in our meetings. To online concerts and online classes and online playgroups. We pivoted to increased stress and teaching our own children and Instacart.
We also pivoted, some of us, to simpler lives. Adults who are home for dinner; families doing jigsaw puzzles together. I am sure that there are many of us who have relaxed into quarantine, finding this lifestyle, while restrictive, more pleasant that our previous work lives.
The big question we face now is where this pivot will lead. After the destruction of the Temple, Jews had to find new ways to worship God and connect with each other. Exile demanded a reset. This reset exemplified their values – the value of learning, of relationship with God, of community. What we see in the Oral Law is an ongoing demonstration of values, values that are both bound by the time in which they were created and instructive for us in the present day.
So what are our values today? Which of our institutions exemplify those values?
I believe that we are learning a great deal in our pandemic. We have learned that community matters a great deal, that we need each other more than we might have expected. We have slowed down enough to experience outrage at our covert and not-so-covert racism, outrage that is long overdue. The pace of life has eased, with less rushing and lower energy. Our lives are less formal, less complex. And full of grief.
In my field, we talk about post-traumatic growth. This is the learning and meaning-making that allows us to create a new narrative of our lives, opening doors to new freedoms and opportunities.
I find myself wondering what we will make of this time. Would a pandemic “holiday” be a Fast Day? The blessing that arose out of the tragedy of the Temple’s destruction was the chance to remake our people and our rituals for new circumstances forced upon us and for a more modern time. We are in exile once again. As we mourn for the Temple on Tisha B’Av this year, let us remember that great sorrow can create profound change and growth. But only if we, smuggled in a box like ben Zakkai, are brave and adventurous.
Betsy S. Stone, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist who currently teaches as an adjunct lecturer at HUC-JIR. Her classes include Human Development for Educators, The Spiritual Life-Cycle, Adolescent Development and Teens In and Out of Crisis.