JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review August 7, 2003 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5763

Tisha B'Av and the price of freedom

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | A recent anonymous email outlined the fate of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence:

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution.

Two centuries later, few of us ever contemplate making sacrifices for what we believe in. Perhaps we are too preoccupied profiting from our freedom to bother thinking about what we owe to the system that enables us to prosper. It is a deplorable failing for an American.

It is even more deplorable for a Jew.

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Our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob suffered alienation and persecution for the sin of rejecting paganism and moral anarchy.

The generations in Egypt endured 210 years of escalating oppression, slavery, and infanticide.

The generation of Moses wandered for 40 years in the desert to merit entering their land.

The generations of the judges and kings fought against internal and external enemies to build and preserve the spiritual integrity of their nation.

And generations of exiles have struggled against religious persecution, genocide, and assimilation at the hands of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, against pogroms at the hands of Crusaders and Cossacks, against holocausts at the hands of Hitlers and Stalins. They sacrificed their lives, their fortunes, and their children -- sometimes willingly, sometimes forcibly --- for no other reason than because they were Jews.

What have we sacrificed?

Have we given up Friday night movies or Saturday golf games to attend shul or honor the Sabbath?

Have we made an effort to study the traditions and the practices that define who we are as a people?

Have we set aside our egos to turn our hearts to heaven in prayer, or to reflect whether our lives and our deeds would make our great-grandparents proud?

Have we even tried to stop gossiping about and slandering our neighbors?

Have we worked to preserve the next generation by educating our children in the ways of our people and supporting Jewish schools?

Have we ever given up something we wanted simply because it didn't serve a higher purpose?

Is the very notion of self-sacrifice so foreign to us that we can't remember that last time we gave something up, that we can't imagine why we should? Indeed, is there a more tragic exile than one who has forgotten he is in exile, has forgotten his home, has forgotten his own people and his own soul?

On Tisha B'Av, we commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the long, dark years of Jewish suffering. And as we fast, as we pray, as we sit on the floor and recite mournful poems of grief and heartache, can we help but weep as we reflect that it is our own selfishness that has darkened our lives, that it is our distance from the very essence of G-dliness that makes indifferent to the darkness that surrounds us?

But out of darkness can come light, and out of sorrow can come rejoicing. When we have outgrown our petty obsession with our wants and our desires, it is then, and only then, that the light of true freedom and peace will flow down from on high to brighten our lives.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson teaches at Block Yeshiva High School and Aish HaTorah in St. Louis. Comment by clicking here .


© 2003, Rabbi Yonason Goldson