Taking Back the Keys
According to legend, on the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av in the year 70 CE as the Roman armies approached, and the raging fire began to burn the timbers that held up the Temple walls, the high priest ran to the rooftop with the keys of the holy Temple in their hands. He looked down upon his beloved city, ransacked and breached. He looked unto it’s people who were murderously divided even now at this most dire hour. He looked over the horizon and saw only the smoke from the burning villages and forests.
Finally he looked up to heaven and declared, “We have not been loyal guardians of Your treasure, of Your city and of Your world. Therefore, here are Your keys, O Master of the universe, which you once entrusted to us. Take them back.”
He tossed the keys into the clouds and they never came down. Shortly after, all of Jerusalem was laid waste.
This weekend is the Ninth of the Av, (Tisha B’Av) the Jewish day of remembrance of the destruction. Both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on this day. It is a national day of mourning for the Jewish people observed by fasting, a limitation of celebratory events and the reading of the Book of Lamentations. There have been many reasons why the Temples were destroyed including senseless hatred amongst the people, social inequality, idolatry and an overly strict interpretation of the law, just to name a few. What the legend of the priest and the keys teaches though, is something different entirely.
What do we learn from his story?
When we look at our world today, what do we see? Like the priest, we see hatred and bigotry rising. We see grace and compassion in retreat. We see inequality growing. We see an idolatrous society that prizes wealth over human connection. It is easy to see injustice and violence as the new god. It is easy to retreat to the rooftops and watch the city burn. It is easy to give over ourselves and our personal moral liability. Many people have come to me with a shrug of the shoulder and a lifting of the hands and say, “But what can I do?”
The priest in the story of Tisha B’Av resigned himself to the destruction and to exile. He simply gave up. He threw away the keys. He stopped resisting. He tossed away control of his own destiny and gave it over to the enemy. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “But what can I do?” We know his fate.
Tisha B’Av is the holiday that shows us just how bad it can get. We continue to be at each other’s throats over everything. We feel under siege at every moment while the walls crumble. Tisha B’Av contains it’s own revelation, a dark truth that there is no Divine guarantee of safety or prosperity. Our moral decisions have mortal consequences. Everything is on the line.
God does not give us a free pass in life. God gives us control to make the world right. The keys to our lives are in our hands.
But in this dark day we find the most important of choices. We can choose to throw away the keys with a shrug and whimper or we can hold fast to them and not resign ourselves to fate. We must not despair. We must not fear. We must take back the keys to our lives. We must fight for what is right and just. We must repair the breach in the walls between us. We must look now into the abyss to know that we can step back from it. The choice is ours.
God does not give us a free pass in life. God gives us control to make the world right. The keys to our lives are in our hands. The key of hope. The key of love. The key of resilience. The key of justice. Keep these keys. Fight back the despair and the chaos. Never give up on the future because it is always worth fighting for. We cannot throw away the keys in this dark hour. We must hold on to them, white knuckled as if our lives depend on it because they do.
According to the Torah, it is forty-nine days or seven weeks, between the Exodus from Egypt to Revelation at Sinai. We repeat this cycle again starting now. Tisha B’Av marks the starting point of the next journey that ends at the Holy Gate of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year and season of repentance. It is only seven weeks from the darkest of days to the brightest of them. Let us keep moving forward on the journey in strength and justice.
For those who observe, have a meaningful fast. – Rabbi Noah