The Hebrew month of Av contains many contradictions and competing emotions. After focusing on destruction and needless hatred, the Jewish heart turns to comfort and the possibility of future redemption. We focus on the possibility of a better world with the concept of "needless love," expressed through random acts of kindness, and only six days after Tisha B'Av we celebrate the Jewish day of love on Tu B'Av.
One way that we find comfort in Av is the claim that the messiah, the one who will bring redemption to the Jewish people and peace to the entire world, will be born on Tisha B'Av.
While this claim may bring comfort to some, knowing that Tisha B'Av will be a day of happiness instead of mourning, I see this statement as incredibly dangerous. As a result of this claim, each of us born on a different day knows that we are not the messiah, and we can sit back and wait for the messiah to arrive, wait for somebody else to bring about better days on our behalf.
Like many of my peers, I saw “The Dark Knight Rises” at the beginning of Av, and like many of my peers, I saw a clear Jewish message in the movie. Like with the destructions of the two temples, the movie deals with the negative effects that corrupt leadership has on society. However, in The Dark Knight Rises, a brave few individuals act against this corruption to try to protect society, while one person, Batman, represents the savior of all of the people.
At one point in the film, Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is asked why he does not reveal his identity as Batman in an attempt to clear his name. He answers simply that he wants the people to believe that anyone can be Batman. Rather than expose the superhero as a billionaire with every resource at his disposal, Wayne leaves a message of both hope and action that reminds people that any individual can make a difference.
So it should be with the Jewish concept of the messiah. Our sages understandably put restrictions on the definition of messiah in order to prevent false messiahs who would lead the people in war. In our day, however, we suffer from a different problem: people are waiting for a messiah to come and solve the world's problems for them. Israeli rocker Shalom Hanoch mocked this attitude during the 1980's financial crisis in Israel, singing "the messiah doesn’t come, the messiah doesn’t phone us, either." His song cynically suggested that there was no purpose in waiting for a messiah, as that hope was false.
The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, teaches us a more optimistic lesson. In hiding his identity, Bruce Wayne encourages all citizens to take a part in maintaining society. So it should be with the Jewish approach to the messiah. In our day, a messiah is not needed to overthrow the yoke of foreign oppression of the Jewish people. Indeed, the Jewish people live freely in many countries, most notably in Israel. However, our societies are far from perfect, and even the freest societies are in need of continued improvement. We have a responsibility not to wait for the messiah, but to do our part to improve our society.
It has become common practice in some liberal Jewish communities to replace the prayers for messiah with prayers for redemption. As a result, instead of waiting for a mythical leader to bring us to better days, these Jews pray directly for the better days. Those who pray that way would do well to listen to Bruce Wayne. Rather than wait for the better days to come, we should direct our intentions toward individuals who bring those better days. But unlike the rabbis of old, we need not put restrictions on who will be that leader. Instead, each of us should behave in the best way possible and work constantly to better the world around us. After all, if any of us can be Batman, any of us can be the messiah.
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