Tisha B’Av: On Sadness, Continuity and Redemption

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We are in Israel and the saddest day on the Jewish calendar has begun. Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) has been commemorated throughout the ages as a day of Jewish national tragedy. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears.

It is a day that the following terrible Jewish tragedies have occurred:

  • The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE
  • The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE
  • The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.
  • Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.
  • Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.
  • Germany entered World War I in 1914
  • SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.
  • The Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto. in 1942

We fast on this day, we sit on or close to the floor and we cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and the void left by the destruction of the Jewish Temples almost 2000 years ago. Our tears are for the majesty that was lost and for the light of the connection to G-d at the time of the Holy Temples that was unparalleled. We cry over what we had and what we have lost.  And we pray for our tears of sadness will be replaced with rejoicing upon the final redemption.  .

According to the Jewish calendar, the festival of Pesach (Passover) always falls out on the same day of the week as Tisha B’Av. In Hebrew, there is no real word for coincidence because in Judaism things are just not coincidental. Things that happen in the same way were meant to be that way. And so, there must be a connection between Pesach, the festival of Geula (redemption) and Tisha B’av, the day of national mourning.

Redemption by definition implies that we will return to something that we have lost, something that we have already experienced. While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation through the open miracles of our Exodus from Egypt, Tisha B’av dwells on our mourning the details of all that we have lost through the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Only by understanding what we are missing can we ever hope to regain that which has been lost. And, so, on this day of national mourning, we lament the loss of the grandeur of the Holy Temples, the unity and the closeness that the spiritual relationship we experienced  during that time.  We read Megillas Eicha (the scroll of lamentations) and we shed true tears for all the tragedy and pain that has befallen our nation and has taken us from the holiness of an era long past.

Our fast begins on the eve of Tisha B’Av and continues until dark nightfall on the next day.  The mourning begins with great intensity and we sit on the floor or low chairs as Jewish mourners do.  We fast throughout the day, but the mourning gradually lessens throughout the day of Tisha B’Av. At Chatzos (midday), we are permitted to sit on regular chairs.

On this terrible day in history,  the structure of our precious Temple was set afire by our enemies. And, the most intense burning of the wood and stones of our Temples occurred at midday.

So, why would midday, the time of the most painful sight of the fiery destruction of our most holy site and of the holiest place on earth, be the time that we start lessening our mourning?

Because precisely at the moment that our precious Temples began burning did we see the hope for the future and the end of our mourning.

At midday, yes, our holiest Jewish sites were burning but we understood that our nation would survive. G-d had chosen to pour out his wrath on the stones and wood of Jerusalem’s holiest site and left our nation to repent, heal and hope for redemption.  That is true continuity and that is mourning with a mission.

And that is precisely the connection to Pesach. Pesach is the celebration of our becoming a nation and our hope for the Final Redemption. Tisha B’av, although painful, is integral for forcing us to recognize what we have lost.  It is the ultimate day for us to contemplate our continuity and redemption and return to what we had.   Tisha B’av is the day to elucidate what we had and cry real tears of understanding for the enormity of the void left by these losses. Only then, will we be granted the merit to witness the Final Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

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