Being the Tooth Fairy Was Easy
When I was little, I believed in the Tooth Fairy. Whenever I would lose a tooth, I would put it under my pillow, and in the morning I knew that one of my parents took the tooth and placed a nickel in its place. I knew they wanted me to think it was the Tooth Fairy, and so I decided to play along and make them happy. We all ‘believed’ in the Tooth Fairy and were quite happy to live the fantasy. A few times, I woke up in the morning. and my tooth was still under my pillow. I made sure to mention to my parents that the Tooth Fairy hadn’t come (read: ‘I thought you were good parents but I believe I’m down a nickel…).
No one is really sure how the Tooth Fairy started, but some theories track it as early as the 1200s, when Norwegian soldiers bought children’s teeth to wear around their necks for good luck in battle (not quite my image of a ‘tooth fairy’ but then no one made me look it up so I have only myself to blame).
When my kids started losing their teeth, I most definitely told them to put the tooth under their pillow for the Tooth Fairy. The first few times I was shocked to hear from friends that you had to put a quarter for each tooth (gone were the good old nickel-per-tooth days). By the time we were at the fifth child, each tooth cost us a loonie (a Canadian $1 coin) – tooth inflation is shocking!
I never considered not being the Tooth Fairy. The guilt, the blame, the parental insecurity would have cut me to the core. Wasn’t a piece of my child worth the $1? Once, I remember trying to get the tooth out from under my kid’s pillow when they opened their eyes and looked at me, as my face was millimeters away from theirs. I froze. I told them I was just coming to say ‘I love you’ – we smiled at each other and they went back to sleep while I went to shower the cold sweat off me.
Yet, with all that said, I do remember that by the end of it all, my youngest child would ask me if the Tooth Fairy had remembered to get some cash that day. She would then hand me her tooth and I would hand her the loonie. I appreciated that she indulged my Tooth Fairy secret identity.
Pretending to believe in things we don’t actually believe in is a tricky thing.
Needless to say, it is a crucial question within our Jewish lives and it becomes very central today, as we approach Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the month of Av – a day that marks Jewish historical disasters throughout time. The decree that ancient Israelites should stay in the desert for 40 years occurred on Tisha B’Av. Both ancient Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this day and Jerusalem was lost as a 2000 year exile began.
Throughout Jewish history, we move all our sadness and tragic memories to Tisha B’Av. The same Sages who tell us to express our Judaism through happiness also tell us to focus all the negativity of our history onto one specific day. It is a brilliant way to frame a troubled history that could result in a depressive culture. To ensure that a difficult history does not define our perspective, we are told that for 364 days of the year we must find our joy, and for 1 day we express our tragedies.
The problem with believing in something is when we are told that all our suffering is because we didn’t have enough faith in God – we didn’t believe enough. According to this view, all our suffering is the punishment we have brought upon ourselves, and therefore the answer is to repent and strengthen our belief.
The problem is we are never commanded to believe in the first place. Commandments speak to the consistency of our behaviours while our beliefs are expected to wax and wane. Yes, Judaism is a religion, and we could easily conclude that everything sits in our faith, but Judaism is far more layered than that. The Talmud tells us that we lost the Temples because of ‘baseless hatred’ – a general animosity we felt towards other people for no valid reason. We weren’t punished because of it, we sabotaged ourselves. I cannot build a family, a community, or a society, if I see no value in anyone around me. Losing everything that mattered to us wasn’t the punishment, it was the inevitable outcome.
Rav Kook, Israel’s first Chief Rabbi, once expressed that the answer to baseless hatred is baseless love. If I am able to reach out to someone and create a positive moment, we are then actively pushing against baseless hatred. If one community offers allyship to a vulnerable group, we are building baseless love. We know that the world before us will not be the same as the world of 18 months ago. The world before us can become a world where we actively push away from Tisha B’Av – where we choose the strength of love and bond.
On Tisha B’Av, we read the book of Lamentations. The first word in the book is ‘Eichah’, which means ‘how’ – how did such a catastrophe occur? It does not begin by asking ‘why’, which would be a question of faith, rather it asks ‘how’, which is a question of accountability.
True belief is never a game we pretend to play, and we are not punished for our journeys of faith. While the ancient prophet Jeremiah asked the question of how things could collapse so fully, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves how we can build things anew so beautifully.