One of the classic Tisha B’Av texts comes from the Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 24b, which tells the story of Rabbi Akiva laughing when he saw a fox darting among the ruins of the destroyed Temple. In response to his incredulous companions, Rabbi Akiva quoted from two prophesies—one about the utter destruction (featuring a fox) and another about a scene of redemption in Jerusalem. Now that he had witnessed the specific fulfillment of the destruction, he told them, he knew that the redemptive vision would also come true. “You have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us,” his colleagues shared.
There is comfort in vision, both in reflecting on the past and anticipating the future.
As a day of mourning, Tisha B’Av itself inspires reflection. This summer, as we bridge between all the challenges of a full year of pandemic restrictions and the unknowns of the year to come, many of us are finding some time to reflect on what we have learned and integrate what we will take forward.
There is so much at the core of our day schools and yeshivas that helped us cope through the worst of the pandemic. Forging a broad sense of community, recognizing and meeting the needs of the whole child, taking into consideration the social and emotional components of learning in addition to the quality of academics—these are integral to the values and practice of a Jewish day school, and so have been routinely embraced throughout. We now know how critical these factors are to getting us through the tough times.
Schools are foundations for hope—and the people inside those schools make hope a reality. Even if there might be no required accommodations, no masks, no remote learning, we know that the coming school year will not be the same as before Covid. Our hope and our forward-facing vision will draw on the best of what we learned and position us towards even greater success.
Tisha B’Av reminds us that loss and hope are intertwined. Having suffered many losses at all levels, we are not the same, and the changes we have withstood, upon reflection, can indeed give us strength to forge ahead. For me, a great loss this past year was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l. I was recently rewatching the video message that he recorded about Tisha B’Av last summer. He quotes from the story of Rabbi Akiva in Makkot, reminding us that to be a Jew is to never let go of hope. He acknowledges the paradoxical phenomenon of the Biblical prophets—the greatest prophets of doom are the very same greatest prophets of hope.
My prayers this Tisha B’Av are for the ability to keep finding hope among even the hardest challenges. As schools turn toward a new year, may we all emerge from what has confined us and discover new ways of perpetuating hope through our children, families, and broader communities.