Eichah & Tisha B'Av Part Five (2000)
The Gemara tells a story about a man who found about the world’s best professional. She was very expensive and had a very long waiting list. But he scrimped and saved and made an appointment to see her. Finally the day came and when he attempted to close the ‘transaction,’ he passed some gas. She giggled, and said to him, “In the same way that you will never recapture that air, you will never be able to do teshuva!” He said to her, “You’re right.” Since he wasn’t in the mood anymore to finish what he was doing, he went outside. He was desperate to do teshuva. He cried out to the stars and the moon. “You’ve got to help me.” They said to him, “Before we can pray for you, we have to pray for ourselves.” He cried out to the hills and the mountains. “You’ve got to help me do teshuva.” They said to him, “Before we can pray for you, we have to pray for ourselves, sorry.” So he cried out to the trees. “Somebody’s got to help me. The trees, grass, the flowers?” They replied the same as the mountains and the hills. Desperate, the man put his head between his knees and began to cry. He cried until the heavens shook. His heart was so broken, he died crying. A bat kol, a heavenly voice sounded forth saying, “Rabi Elazar ben Rudai has a portion in the World to Come.”
This is a very strange story. The point, however, is the Jewish idea that everything we do affects all of Creation. The world was created for human beings to come closer to God. If you don’t use the world in the proper way, or don’t use all that the world has to offer, then the world itself is suffering, it is being damaged. The world itself needs to cry out to God. A cow is just a cow, but it can be elevated to the level of a karban. An apple is just an apple, but it becomes lunch that is eaten in the presence of God, by reciting a bracha beforehand. On the other hand, eating the apple without a blessing takes it from being a vehicle for the manifestation of God in the world to denying that.
Therefore, one of the ideas of the story is that everything we do affects the entire universe. At the end of his life, Rabi Elazar ben Rudai understood. I don’t think he ever lived under the impression that he was a tzaddik. But once he was confronted with the metaphor that this woman used, he realized that even the grossest thing reflected the reality. Everyone in the story was telling him the same thing. People who don’t understand that cause a tremendous amount of destruction. This is what happened with the destruction of the Temples. Everyone in the world knew that we used to bring forgiveness for the whole world. To lose that opportunity didn’t only affect us in our immediate vicinity, in Jerusalem, but it affects the rest of the world, and universe as well. This idea helps us appreciate the positive aspects including what we could hope to accomplish. The last of the kinot that we say at night speak of how the constellations cry out and how they, too, mourn for the destruction of the Temple.
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