Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is "wait 'til next year" a good approach?

This morning I spoke about the kinah of אאדה עד חוג שמים – our pursuit of Gd, our approach to others for assistance, the failure of others to assist, and finally our appeal to Divine mercy. Perhaps the best-known line in the kinah is בכל שנה אומרת היא השנה הזאת, the annual declaration, "This is going to be the year."

We are familiar with the accounts of communities which buried their kinos after Tishah b'Av every year. [I have wanted to do this for the past few years, but we are renting, so we don't have a yard…] We know of great leaders who kept packed suitcases by the door, and who saved their finest clothing for the arrival of Mashiach.

And we train ourselves to say "Wait 'til next year." We sing לשנה הבאה בירושלים ("next year in Jerusalem") after Yom Kippur, at the Seder, and on various other occasions. We recite the Ani Maamin saying that we will wait for Mashiach every day. We consider it quasi-heretical to act as though Mashiach isn't coming imminently.

But I wonder if we aren't harming our chances, to a certain extent. Saying "This is going to be the year" suggests that we are a championship-contending team, bounced in the first or second or third round of the playoffs, perhaps missing one or two key pieces in order to get over the hump. Many teams that think they are just one or two pieces away don't make major moves, don't re-examine their conditioning practices and uproot and re-build their drafting policies. They try to maintain their strengths, and add that one more thing.

The result is that teams trick themselves into thinking they are already contenders and go for years with an aging nucleus, disregarding their many flaws, until they collapse. (I would give specific examples, but this post is going up Motzaei Tishah b'Av and I'm not in the mood for that sort of thing.) Teams need to know when it's time to go into re-building mode.

I wonder if our "Next year in Jerusalem" chants and our "This is going to be the year" confidence don't lead us to believe that we are on the cusp, just about there, and therefore not in need of a major overhaul. We treat our beautiful, booming land of Israel, our schools with their unprecedented enrollments, our shuls with their daf yomi programs, our community kollelim, our beautiful mikvaos, our number of children studying in Israel, our kosher food, our anti-lashon hara programs, as evidence that we are strong. If ony we could just add one piece, a little reduction of that pesky sinas chinam, we'd be great.

We are unreasonably optimistic, and we don't uproot everything. We campaign for money for our institutions without asking whether they need a re-boot. We add minyanim without asking whether we are really davening. We build new mikvaos without looking at the emotional health of our families.

I'm rambling and ranting a bit; I apologize. But I can't shake the feeling that instead of putting out videos and making speeches about the one thing we need to change, the one thing to add so that maybe we'll see Mashiach and this will be the last Tishah b'Av, we - each individual Jew, lay and clergy alike - ought to be making a real list, designing a multi-year or multi-decade rebuilding process as individuals and as members of communities, and getting on with it.


  1. "This is going to be the year" confidence
    I don't view it as confidence but as a hope which leads us to do what you outline in the last paragraph (see Einstein's definition of insanity)
    Joel Rich

  2. Hmm, not sure what to think about this. I don't think I know anyone who "considers it quasi-heretical to act as though Mashiach isn't coming imminently." I do recognize the complacency (when I was a child, when considering anything unpleasant in the near future, I used to tell myself that Maschiach might come before then), but I'm not sure it is linked to messianic expectations as such; if anything, there may be a confusion of cause and effect here i.e. because people are complacent, they think Mashiach must be coming soon because we're doing so well. (Also don't downplay the role of external events like the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel in raising messianic expectations.)

    However, if we look at the Jewish community as a whole, rather than just the frum community, then we can find lots of criticism (of Israel, of frum people, of Orthodoxy and halakha etc.), some would say too much. So perhaps what we need is a Golden Mean; maybe "I am dust and ashes/The world was created for me" should apply on a communal level as well as an individual one?

    One last thought regarding your final paragraph: I've long thought it significant that less than a month after Tisha B'Av, we're into the Elul/Yamim Noraim personal review/teshuva cycle.

  3. Since there are so many versions of "the thing we have to change to get over the hump", we essentially have a comprehensive list to work from!

    In much the same vein, there are multiple versions of "the main way we went wrong before":