Off the Pulpit

Responsibilities and Dreams

This past week all across the world Jews mourned the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And they blamed themselves.

Yes, there are passages in Jewish literature that excoriate the nations who carried out the destruction. There are even passages that express anger at God. But primarily the Jews attribute the catastrophes of their history to their own misdeeds. In that is a danger and a blessing.

The danger is clear: when something catastrophic happens that is not at all the fault of the people, such as the Shoah, to blame oneself is a moral monstrosity. No one should feel responsible for the inflicted evil of another.

Yet the blessing is that the Jews were able to survive because we believed in the wisdom of the tradition, the love of God, the promise of history and the possibility of doing better. If it was our fault today, it need not be our fault again tomorrow. What we have destroyed we can rebuild; what we have neglected we can enact; what we have failed we can fulfill.

So after Tisha B’Av comes the great project to restore the possibilities of Jewish destiny. To reverse the poet’s line, in responsibility begins dreams.