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Thought for the Day: Tisha B’Av 2021

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“If we cannot look back on our past with honesty and humility, we are destined to repeat our worst mistakes.”

It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte, when passing a small building in Paris, heard the sound of uncontrollable weeping. He dispatched an officer to enquire what horrific misfortune had taken place. The officer returned to explain that this was a Synagogue and the congregation was mourning the destruction of their Great Temple in Jerusalem.

“How is it possible,” asked Napoleon, “that I have heard nothing about this event from my intelligence sources?” The officer explained that the tragedy had taken place over 1,700 years before. The Emperor was said to be impressed, declaring, “A people which so intensely mourns the loss of their Temple after close to two millennia is a people destined for a glorious future.”

That day was the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, an annual fast day which will be observed in Jewish communities around the globe this Sunday.

All Jewish calendar events, while being deeply rooted in history, are commemorated for the purpose of shaping our future. There is no better example of this than the Ninth of Av, when we don’t just weep for the loss of a Temple. More significantly, we recall the reasons for that tragedy.

The Talmud explains that the reason for our defeat was a “causeless hatred”. It was rife amongst our people at that time, making us weak and vulnerable in the face of a relentless attack by the might of Rome. The timeless lessons from the bitterness of that defeat are clear: Everything we hold dear is at risk if we cannot replace causeless hatred with causeless love.

Sometimes there is a tendency to neglect history or to rewrite it. If we cannot look back on our past with honesty and humility, we are destined to repeat our worst mistakes.

I was reminded of this last Sunday, which was so nearly a day that English football fans would celebrate for posterity. Sadly, it became a day marked by horrific racial abuse and one that many of us would sooner forget.

Over the last few days, we’ve seen an overwhelming wave of indignation.  The country has united in support of the victims. Within 48 hours, more than one million people signed a petition calling for those who racially abuse footballers to be banned from grounds for life. 

Our challenge is clear. We must now not allow the passage of time to erode our determination to tackle racial abuse. We must hold onto this moment and continue to lament what has transpired, because rooting out causeless hatred will turn out to be more valuable than lifting any trophy.