Rosh Chodesh Av and the Nine Days Leading up to Tisha b’Av

Having come through the tragic and painful 17th day of the 4th month, referred to as the 17th of Tammuz on the Jewish calendar, which commemorates the day in which the walls of Jerusalem were breached, we begin to anticipate the appearance of the tiny sliver of another new moon, that of ראש חודש אב, Rosh Chodesh Av. Yet as we enter this new month and come to the end of the classic Three Week period (see the previous article on this website), we will find ourselves entering into the Nine Days…on the cusp of an even more catastrophic and painful day, that of Tisha b’Av, the historic 9th day of Av which marks the burning of Jerusalem and the destruction of not only the first Holy Temple in 586 BCE but also the second in 70 CE.

In Jewish circles, the tradition during these first 9 days of the month leading up to Tisha b’Av is to refrain from engaging in pleasurable experiences such as vacations, weddings, dancing, and drinking wine, except of course on Shabbat. Traditionally there are no happy events, no celebrations.

This day is a day of fasting and bitter mourning, and is referred to as the saddest day in Jewish history. Yet the very name of this new month carries with it consolation and blessing for it reveals yet another of those many hidden sparks beneath the surface. It is called Av…אב, which in Hebrew means Father. It is often referred to as Menachem Av, meaning the “Comfort of the Father.” When may we ask are we in most need of comfort? It is not during those times of suffering and affliction? This subject is the focus of this article.

The Three Haftorahs of Affliction, Admonition, or Rebuke -What is the Message?

During The Three Weeks, it is customary after the regular reading of the Torah portion in the synagogues to read what we refer to in Judaism as The Three Haftorahs of Affliction, Admonition, or Rebuke.

Jeremiah 1:1-2-3

Jeremiah 2:4-28 followed by 4:1-2 or 3:4                                                                                                                   

Isaiah 1:1-27

These readings are taken from the opening chapters of the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah and center on the theme of HaShem’s utter disappointment and heartbreak regarding Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. Heartfelt and powerful, these words can bring tears to the eyes of the reader. They warn of the dire consequences that would come if Israel did not mend her ways…sadly they fell on deaf ears and the destruction and the exile ensued, for there are always consequences to pay….then and now.

I have included some selections below but would encourage you to read and meditate upon the entire portions for yourself.

“From the north shall the evil loose itself from the inhabitants of the Land.” (Jer.1:14)

“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)

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)

“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)

“Hear O heavens and give ear O earth, for HaShem has spoken: I have reared and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his owner, the ass his master’s crib; but Yisrael does not know. My people does not consider…”They have forsaken HaShem; they have provoked the Holy One of Yisrael to anger; they are gone away backward.” (Isa 1:2-4)

HaShem is a jealous G-d who demands our awe and respect and faithfulness to Him and Him alone. We need to understand that behind the gloom and doom of these words is a Gracious and Loving Father who only wants the best for His children.

Each of these three haftorah portions could be said to be representative of a hidden spark beneath the surface for although each is a strong admonition, each one ends on a note of hope and inspiration. This concept is reflected in the words of the renowned Rabbi J.H. Hertz, the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. Speaking of Jeremiah, often referred to as the weeping prophet, he says that he was called upon by HaShem “to preach repentance, threatening judgment, and at the same time, holding out the promise of restoration. But even in his darkest moments when he utterly despairs in the future of the Jewish state, his faith and trusts in God do not forsake him.”

“Though all be lost,” he seems to say to Israel, “turn to God in perfect trust, call Him your Father and His love will regenerate you.” (Rabbi Hertz – The Pentateuch and Haftorahs p.711).

Regenerate you…what a beautiful promise! This is the message of Menachem Av…and the message of HaShem to all who call Him their Father. May we open our hearts and our ears to receive these words today!

Turning Baseless Hatred into Baseless Love

As sad and tragic as the events of these days have been in history, even up to and including the present, we must all strive with our whole hearts to rise above them and seek our G-d, YHVH, the ONE and ONLY G-d and Creator of the Universe…so we pray and stand strong for we cannot allow ourselves to lose our focus and become so overwhelmed that we forget who we are and succumb to the darkness around us… nor can we allow ourselves to become paralyzed, dismayed, and frozen and fall prey to the rampant baseless hatred that has plagued the human race since the beginning and is currently spreading like wildfire in our world today. We must work diligently to turn that baseless hatred into baseless love!

Just imagine for a moment the difference it could make if we could each adopt and live by this attitude…baseless love instead of baseless hatred!

Remember the story of Yosef…how he was thrown into that dark pit and then sold by his brothers due to their baseless hatred. According to Jewish tradition, the date was Tisha b’Av. Everything looked bleak indeed, but he retained his focus. What did he do in response to this baseless hatred? When the opportunity came, he turned that baseless hatred into baseless love. He embraced them and forgave them completely and they became a family, united once again; and out of that family, came a nation, one that after much struggle and hardship finally came out of the “straits,” the narrow place, Mitzrayim, the place of restrictions. You know the history from there…all about the wilderness wanderings, coming into the land, the rebellion of the people as they went after other gods despite repeated warnings from the prophets…all of which led to dire consequences including the destruction of both temples, the Galut/diaspora…yet through it all HaShem’s eyes have never left His people.

Our Response – Attaching Ourselves to YHVH and His Yad Tova

His Good Hand, the Yad Tova (Ezra 7:9), although often hidden, has always been upon his people and with all who attach themselves to them and His Torah (Isaiah 56). Even in this present-day darkness, like a hidden spark beneath the surface, He is there to light the way!

We are reminded of the prophetic passage from Zechariah 8:23, which is set off in white spaces and reads, צְבָאוֹת יְהוָה אָמַר כֹּה, “Thus says HaShem (YHVH) of Hosts; in those days it shall come to pass that ten men out of all the languages of the nations shall take hold, and shall seize the skirt {tzit tzit} of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that HaShem (Elohim) is with you.”

This prophecy in Zechariah in addition to the one in Isaiah 56:8 which states that “He will gather to the gathered,” are just two of  the countless prophecies in the Tanakh which proclaim the surety of the coming redemption!

If we open our eyes and look around us today through and past the existing chaos, we can see signs of this ingathering coming to pass right before our very eyes! HaShem’s children are waking up, coming to themselves, and returning to their hearts and to their G-d as instructed in Devarim/Deuteronomy chapter 30.

Whether we are Jewish, Israel, Ten Tribes, or other we here at United Israel World Union are a part of this grand regathering…we are all family for we have joined ourselves to YHVH, to HaShem, the One G-d and Creator of the Universe and to His Torah and look forward with great anticipation to this coming redemption.

As we go through these first Nine Days of the month of Av this year, beginning on Friday evening July 9th and ending on Sunday evening July 18th, may we earnestly strive to take a deep introspective look at ourselves, do teshuvah and “return to our hearts” as we are admonished in Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:39.

Tikkun Olam – Repairing the Brokenness

May we engage in tikkun olam (the repair of our world) by first endeavoring to repair what is broken in us, b’ezrat HaShem, (with the help of HaShem). As we are then repaired may we reach out and help repair the brokenness that lies all around us.

The Koksker Rebbe has a beautiful quote. He says, “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart.” This time period does indeed carry with it a sense of heaviness and mourning, but it also can be a time of innate joy, a time of simcha. As we come together we find blessings in the midst of our heartache and are encouraged to look forward to the redemption when HaShem will wipe away all our tears. We all have a G-d given Divine spark and a designated part to play…but it must start on a one-to-one basis…with each of us as individuals.

Cognizant of the past and surrounded by the present-day chaos in our world today, we must strive to turn our focus inward and upward so that we can become better people…people building up one another, instead of tearing one another down. We must hold on, take heart and draw closer together.

The Little Seed and the Promise of Simcha to Come!

In our most recent article on The Three Weeks, we introduced the thought-provoking idea from the Kabbalistic teachings of the Zohar that this time period carries with it a hidden meaning in that it can be compared to a seed for what will one day become a day of celebration!

When we think of a seed, we said, we think of it being planted, hidden from sight in the darkness, and it is here in this dark place…deep in the ground… where it splits open and takes in nourishment from the earth and the rain waters…and begins to grow… stretching up, up, up…towards the light, until it sprouts and breaks through the surface to become what it was created to be!

Therefore as we contemplate entering this 5th month, the new month of Menachem Av, and prepare to commemorate Tisha b’ Av, may we give ourselves permission to weep as we do our own personal and corporate teshuvah…but may we also allow ourselves to receive comfort and experience the blessings inherent in Menachem Av, knowing that there is grace for the present and hope for the future for all those who choose to live their lives by the precepts of Torah and maintain their trust and loyalty to YHVH, to HaShem the ONE and ONLY G-D and Creator!

As we weep, may we picture in our mind’s eye our tears blending with those that have gone before us…serving to water all those little seeds and enabling them to reach up past the darkness and turn their faces to the light where they can sprout and flourish.

May we look past our own darkness and that of the world around us, and like the little seed, turn our faces towards the light and each discover our own hidden potential and in the process, become all that we were meant to be!  Like hidden sparks beneath the surface, may we all come together and do our part in lighting up the world as we endeavor to turn baseless hate into baseless love!

Stay tuned for the next article, The Awesome Day of Tisha b’Av.        

 

by Elisheva Tavor aka Betty Tabor Givin

Betty Tabor Givin (who is known by her Hebrew pen name as Elisheva Tavor) is a lifelong teacher. After having retired from her teaching career of several decades in the public and private school sector, she turned her full attention to religious education. She is an ordained teacher and long-time board member for United Israel World Union. Her popular teachings demonstrate the depth and beauty of her Jewish faith. Her articles have been featured in various publications and on the web. She is a regular contributor to Netiv Center for Torah Study and the United Israel Bulletin and is presently writing a book entitled, Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface.