“Descent for the sake of ascent”


If we look at the stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Torah, we see again and again that they face enormous challenges as they seek to follow a path toward God. The ancient rabbis taught that this is no accident. Facing difficult challenges is an important part of the journey of the Jewish people, shaping our character and destiny. Without them, we would never be able to reach the highest parts of ourselves. The Hasidic masters called this process “descent for the sake of ascent.” To ascend to the heights, we must first go down to the depths and face what we find there. Then we can turn and point ourselves upward. This process of going down and then up is at the heart of the observance of Tish’ah b’Av that we will undertake on Saturday night. On that day of all days we open ourselves up to the darkness and tragedy of Jewish history and the ways the horrors of that history are still around us in the present, as we and others face cruelty, discrimination, and violence. We fast, we sit on the floor at night in the darkened sanctuary, and we try to come to grips with the agony of what has happened and what continues to happen in our world. But that is not the end of the story. As night turns into morning and then afternoon, we get up from the floor, we rise from the dust, and we raise our voices. We acknowledge and assimilate all the darkness, and then we turn our faces toward the light, toward the hope, toward the mountain that stands above us, calling us to a higher vision of the world and our place in it.

May we all support each other as we descend to the depths, sitting with each other in the darkness. And may we each lend the other a hand as we turn and ascend the mountain together.