Reflections on Tisha b’Av
We have just come through Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, the saddest day on the Hebrew calendar, a day that seems to be one set aside for calamities….including the incident of the 10 spies and their bad report, the burning of not only the first Temple but also the second…plus many more tragedies through the centuries. (See my previous article for a complete list).
On Tisha B’Av many of us commemorated these tragic events by mourning and fasting. We removed our shoes, sat on the floor in a dimly lit room, and as we chanted the heartfelt wrenching words of the Book of Lamentations, we blended our tears with those of the weeping prophet and with those who have gone before us in ages past. Through our tears we cried out aloud in solidarity, eichah? “How did this happen?”
Quite clearly and tragically we read that it was because our ancestors lost their awe of HaShem! This led to bad choices and flagrant disobedience. Instead of following Him they chose to go their own way, even to the extent of going after other gods which had been explicitly forbidden! Calamitous consequences followed.
Sadly Moshe prophesied this shortly after the giving of the Torah which incidentally is found in the Torah portion of this week, entitled Vaethchanan. It is set apart by the beginning of a white space which indicates a special emphasis.
“When you shall beget children, and children’s children, and you shall have remained long in the land, and shall deal corruptly, and make a carved idol, the likeness of anything, and shall do evil in the sight of YHVH, to provoke Him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day (Deut/Devarim 4:24 ff)
Moshe continues by prophesying that as a result of their falling away the people will be driven from the land and scattered among the nations…but even so he says, if they seek HaShem with all their heart and with all their soul that they will find Him!
The prophet Jeremiah among many others picks up the sad rebuke many centuries later… “Your evil shall castigate you, your waywardness shall chastise you and you shall realize and you shall see that evil and bitter is your forsaking of HaShem your God and that there is no awe of Me upon you. “(Jer2:19)
He chastises not only the people, but also their leaders…“The teachers of the Torah did not know me; the shepherds of the people rebelled against me and the prophets prophesied in the name of Baal.” (Jer. 2:8)
But that was then and now is now…how can we relate it to the present circumstances and to us individually?
Bringing it Forward
Each of us have no doubt had the experience of suffering through the consequences of our actions and recognize that although we may do t’shuvah and attempt to rectify our wrongdoing, there are still consequences to pay…not because HaShem delights in punishing us, but because He loves us and like a loving parent, knows that in order to grow, we need the correction. This has been the case since Adam and Eve in Gan Eden when HaShem asked them the daunting question…
“Ayecha, where are you?” As we stated in our previous article, this is the question that each of us must ask ourselves as we go through each day. It involves taking a deep inner look within our hearts and doing some serious soul searching…it is actually the first step in developing a sense of Divine or G-D Consciousness.
We pointed out that Tisha b’Av is not just about mourning for a building (the Holy Temple). It is so much more for at its core it represents the loss of the Divine Presence and with it our Divine Consciousness …it is about losing the sense of awe towards YHVH our G-D and mourning for the absence of His Divine Presence in our world today and in each of our own hearts…it is about taking stock of ourselves and following through with t’shuvah! The Holy Temple had to be torn down and cleaned out because it had become corrupt… could the same be said of our hearts today? Ayecha, where are you…this is a question that calls out to each of us through the ages…a question that must be answered! We cannot help but wonder, how many tragedies and heartrending consequences could have been prevented, how many tears could have been avoided had we simply looked inside our hearts, asked and answered that question?
Nachamu, Nachamu – the Beginning of Comfort
As we move away from this painful day each year, the heaviness although still present, begins to lift a bit, for we know that the blessed Sabbath is coming! The Sabbath immediately before Tisha b’Av is called, Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath of Vision so named because of the opening verses of the special haftorah portion which speaks of the vision of the prophet (Isa.1:1-27). This is the third of three haftorah portions known as The Haftorahs of Divine Retribution…it begins with rebuke and ends with a promise of redemption.
Based on the message of these verses, Jewish tradition states that on this Sabbath the people will be given a vision…a vision with a promise that will bring hope for the coming redemption. One rabbinic opinion is that the Third Temple as it is in heaven will descend to earth and with it will come an awareness of HaShem’s Divine Presence here on earth. In Isaiah 56:7, which is read on Tisha b’Av, the prophet quotes HaShem as saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people…and in the book of Habakkuk, we are given the promising words, “for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of YHVH as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:3).
Meditating on these verses can both inspire and encourage us to endeavor to develop that sense of Divine Consciousness which will in turn enable us to more readily experience the Divine in our daily lives and hasten the day when that vision becomes a reality!
The Sabbath of Comfort or Consolation
The Sabbath following the 9th of Av is a special one with a special message. It is Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Comfort or Consolation. Named after the Haftorah portion from Isaiah 40:1-26, it begins with the moving words of HaShem telling His prophet Isaiah, “Nachamu, nachamu, ami” which translates, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.”
This is the first of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation after the Ninth of Av leading up to the first of Tishrei and Rosh HaShana. Rabbi Hertz in his commentary on this haftorah and the ones to follow says that these haftorahs “consist of sublime messages of encouragement that have sustained and fortified Israel during its ordeals of cruelty and persecution throughout the ages.”(p.776)
On this Sabbath, we read the parsha, Vaetchanan (Devarim 3:23-7:11) which includes the most incredibly awesome one-time event of all time when HaShem, YHVH, the One G-D and Creator of the heavens and the earth, descended upon Mt Sinai amidst the fire and smoke and thunder and lightening and spoke to His people “face to face” proclaimed His “aish da’at,” His Fire Law with the Ten Words known as the Ten Commandments. It was here on this mountain that He entered into an eternal covenant with His people (Devarim 4:11- 5:18).
The text continues with admonitions to diligently keep all the commandments and the statues and to take care to do them and to teach and reteach them to their children all the days of their lives in order to prolong their days that things would go well with them when they went into the land to possess it.
There were warnings, here in this text and all through the Tanakh, “remember, remember,”…”lest you forget,” warnings that were meant for G-D’s children for all time…warnings and consequences that would follow if these admonitions were not heeded.
Devarim 6:4 has formed the central tenet of Judaism and those who follow the Torah faith over the centuries. “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad!” “Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-D, HaShem is One! And you shall love HaShem your G-D with all your heart, all your soul and all your might (all your everything). And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart…”
One cannot help but think that had the people kept these words in their hearts and remembered to do them as HaShem had commanded, and continued to pass them down through the generations, that neither the rampant corruption of the leaders nor the baseless hatred amongst the people would have taken root and flourished…for there would have been no room in their hearts for anything but awe and respect for their G-D and love for one another. As we look around at the present situation in our world today, we find many similarities; we shake our heads and ask ourselves, “Eichah”, like the weeping prophet who was lamenting over the fate of Jerusalem… Eichah, how did this happen? The only answer remains for each and every one of us to delve deeply inside his or her own heart and ask, “Ayecha,” where am I?”
We must continue to guard our hearts in the midst of all the chaos and not despair and become despondent! Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us that we must guard our hearts because everything flows from it, “Keep your heart with the greatest vigilance for out of it are the issues of life.”
Guarding our Hearts
What happens when we fail to guard our hearts? Our hearts become broken and we fall. The prophet Joel says, “Rend your hearts and not your garments.”(Joel2:13) This was the message of Tisha b’Av! How might we define the term, rend your hearts?
King David, referred to as a “man after G-D’s own heart in I Samuel 13:14 gives us a perfect example of rending our hearts. After his sin with Bathsheba, he is deeply grieved and heartbroken. He cries out to HaShem his G-D, “Create in me a clean heart O G-d and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.”(Psalm 51:12-13)
In order to pray this prayer we have to be honest, vulnerable and open up our hearts, and as we do t’shuvah we ask of ourselves, “Where are you…what were you thinking?!”We must own up to our disobedience and prepare to accept and live through the consequences and hopefully grow as a result.
Like King David, we are all human; we all make mistakes as we go through our lives. The Hebrew calendar is cyclical, not linear, much like our lives. Rabbi Jacobson in his Meaningful Life Series makes the analogy that these cycles in life can be compared to waves in the ocean and that when coming face to face with such a wave we are called upon to become good swimmers and make good judgments. When a strong wave comes and knocks us down, we know we are in trouble for have misjudged the power of that wave. It is at that time that we have to learn not to resist or fight the wave, but “go with the flow,” face the consequence and ride it through.
From Tears to Rejoicing
There is a time for everything…”Crying over the loss of the Temple,” Rabbi Jacobson says “is like riding the difficult waves.” And I might add that when we begin thinking too highly of ourselves, we fail to guard our hearts and instead of following the way of HaShem, we make the choice to go our own way because we are arrogant and proud and forget the adage that “pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall”(Proverbs 16:18). When we come back to ourselves, we are deeply grieved…we cry out to HaShem, we do t’shuvah, we take responsibility for our actions and try to prepare ourselves to face the consequences. It has been said that tears are for the soul what soap is for the body…they are cleansing and they provide us with renewal of both body and spirit.
Our tears Rabbi Jacobson states, are a part of the swim, they are a necessary part of our journey designed to guide us in the way we need to travel. If we fail to embrace the sadness and hold back the tears, we run the risk of becoming desensitized to it and then we will become desensitized to the joy as well. “In other words,” he says,” if we don’t cry when it’s time to cry, we won’t be able to rejoice when it’s time to celebrate.”
Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av – A Day of Rejoicing!
The number 9 is an incomplete number…therefore when we weep on the 9th of Av, we can be assured that there is more to come for after the number 9 comes the number 10 (which is filled with meaning) and then 10 leads us to 15 which in Torah symbolizes a day of rejoicing…think Pesach, Sukkot, Purim…all beginning on the evening of the 14th which marks the beginning of the 15th and the beautiful full moon in the night sky. Isaac Luria, the 16th century Kabbalist says that the full moon of the 15th of Av is the greatest of all because it comes after destruction and represents resurrection and celebration!
Six days after the 9th of Av, on the 15th day of the month at the full moon, there is a little known festival called Tu b’Av. It is not found in the Tanakh, but is one that has been held in Israel since ancient times. Tu b’Av originally marked the beginning of the grape harvest which continued until Yom Kippur on the 10th of Tishrei. It was the practice for unmarried girls to dress in white garments and dance in the vineyards. This is referred to in Judges 21:20-23 when the men who remained from the tribe of Benjamin after the civil war were allowed to go out into the vineyards where the maidens were dancing and take brides for themselves. In modern times, Tu b’Av has come to be considered a holiday of love.
Conclusion – Hope Springs Eternal!
After the ninth of Av, the heart begins to be comforted and the seeds of hope begin to sprout. In Jewish tradition the 15th of the month represents a turning of the corner for there is a profound sense of things beginning to turn around!
Within one month we have utter sadness and tragedy contrasted with joy, rejoicing and comfort. Such is life…a mix of opposites. To quote King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
With these thoughts in mind, may we once again call to mind and fully embrace the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman…”Tears open gates…music demolishes walls.” The month of Av is coming to its midpoint…we have shed our tears, the gates are opening…now let us be comforted and rejoice as we demolish the walls of separation within ourselves, between one another and our Creator… and look forward to the music!!!
“Restore us to you HaShem and we will be restored! Renew our days as in days of old!!!” (Lamentations 5:21)