Reprinted with permission from Rachel Barenblat, “The Velveteen Rabbi” blog
17 Tammuz, justice, and broken walls
Today is 17 Tammuz, a minor fast day in Jewish tradition. Today we enter into the Three Weeks, also called Bein Ha-Meitzarim, “In the Narrows.”
On this day, we remember the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem during a long-ago siege of that holy city, the first step toward the destruction of the Temple three weeks later. On this day, we remember the shattering of the first set of tablets which Moshe brought down from Sinai. When he saw the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf, he smashed the tablets in sorrow and despair.
On this day, we allow ourselves to be conscious of what’s broken. Moshe’s heart broke when he saw his community choosing idolatry and wickedness. My heart breaks when I read that the Supreme Court has struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act. (See SCOTUS decision, pdf. For context, see Do we still need the Voting Rights Act?, PBS and Why we still need the Voting Rights Act, Washington Post.)
“In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics…Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines.” (That’s from the decision itself.) Halevai — would that it were so! But I do not believe that racism is over. (Neither do the researchers behind this study, released last month.)
The New York Times notes that although the Court upheld Section 5, which protects voters in the places where discrimination has been the worst, “without Section 4, which determines which states are covered, Section 5 is without significance — unless Congress chooses to pass a new bill for determining which states would be covered.” I fear that leaving it to Congress to reach consensus on where discrimination happens (before steps can be taken to ameliorate the discrimination) is tantamount to inaction. And inaction means that the discrimination can not only continue, but flourish.
17 Tammuz was the day when the walls of Jerusalem began to fail. Where are the places in our world today where the walls of human rights, the walls of justice, the walls of empathy and compassion are cracking and becoming unsound?
Whether or not you’re fasting today; whether or not you were even aware, before you read this post, that today was the fast day commemorating the breaching of those long-ago walls; whether or not you place stock in the traditional teaching that today is the anniversary of the day whe Moshe smashed those tablets of stone — don’t let today pass you by. Don’t look away from what’s broken.
I believe that the dates on our liturgical calendar have real meaning. (Whether the meaning is innate in the day itself, or whether it accrues over the course of thousands of years of us investing these dates with meaning, I experience the meaning either way.) The spiritual valance of today, on the Jewish calendar, is brokenness. Today is a day to let our hearts break when we see what’s wrong in our world. Don’t fight it; experience it.
And — because there is always a next step — then gather your courage to do something about it. Hold on to the wisdom of the great sage Leonard Cohen, who wrote “There is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.” Every breakage is also an opening. May we bring light to this world’s broken places, and justice to everywhere marred by its absence. Speedily and soon.