By Yoram Ettinger
Tisha b’Av commemorates dramatic national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from – rather than repeating – critical moral and strategic missteps.
Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the most calamitous day in Jewish history, first mentioned in the Book of Zechariah 7:3. It is a day of fasting (one of four fast days connected to the destruction of Jerusalem), commemorating dramatic national catastrophes, in an attempt to benefit from history by learning from – rather than repeating – critical moral and strategic missteps. Forgetfulness feeds oblivion; remembrance breeds deliverance.
Major Jewish calamities are commemorated on the ninth day of Av:
*The failed “Ten Spies/tribal presidents” – contrary to Joshua & Caleb – slandered the Land of Israel, preferring immediate convenience and conventional “wisdom” over faith and long term vision, thus prolonging the wandering in the desert for 40 years, before settling the Promised Land;
*The destruction of the First Temple and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BCE) resulted in the massacre of 100,000 Jews and a massive national exile;
*The destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem by Titus of Rome (70 CE) triggered the massacre of 1 million Jews and another massive national exile, aiming to annihilate Judaism and the Jewish people;
*The execution of the Ten Martyrs – ten leading rabbis – by the Roman Empire;
*The Bar Kokhba Revolt was crushed with the killing of Bar Kokhbah, the fall of his headquarters in Beitar (135 CE), south of Jerusalem in Judea and Samaria, the plowing of Jerusalem, and the killing of 600,000 Jews by the Roman Empire;
*The pogroms of the First Crusade (1096-1099) massacred tens of thousands of Jews in Germany, France, Italy and Britain;
*The Jewish expulsion from Britain (1290);
*The Jewish expulsion from Spain (1492);
*The eruption of the First World War (1914);
*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp.
Napoleon was walking one night in the streets of Paris, hearing lamentations emanating from a synagogue. When told that the wailing commemorated the 586 BCE destruction of the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem he stated: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”
Key Message: Sustain Faith and Hope
A key message of the Ninth Day of Av, personally and collectively/nationally: Sustain faith and hope, and refrain from forgetfulness, despair, fatalism and pessimism, irrespective of the odds, which may seem – through conventional, short-term lenses – insurmountable, but could be a transition toward deliverance. From Auschwitz to Jerusalem, from exile (estrangement, dispersal and enslavement) to the ingathering in the Land of Israel (spiritual and physical liberty).
The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the ninth day of Av. It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” According to the Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal.”
The Book of the five Lamentations (The Scroll of Eikhah which was composed by Jeremiah the Prophet, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance) is read during the first nine days of Av. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the traditional number of righteous Jewish persons. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah (איכה) could be interpreted as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you?” or “Why have you
strayed away?” The termאיכהfeatures in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah, which are studied annually in conjunction with the book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9thday of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah and three critical periods in the history of the Jewish People: destruction, deliverance, renewal.
Remembrance – Learning from Mistakes
The ninth day of Av concludes a three-week-lamentation of Jewish calamities, emphasizing two reproaches by the Prophet Jeremiah and one by the Prophet Isaiah, launching a seven-week period of consolation, renewal and the ingathering, highlighted by Isaiah prophecies.
The commemoration of the ninth day of Av constitutes a critical feature of Judaism. It enhances faith, roots, identity, moral clarity, cohesion and optimism by learning from past errors, and immunizing oneself against the lethal disease of forgetfulness. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Bible, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition to the younger generation, thus enhancing realism, while avoiding euphoric or fatalistic mood.he custom of house-cleaning on the ninth day of Av aims at welcoming deliverance. Fasting expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement and humility.
The four Jewish days of fasting, commemorating the destruction of the Two Temples: the 10th day of Tevet (the onset of the Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem), the 17th day of Tamuz (the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached), the 9th day of Av (the destruction of both Temples) and the 3rd day of Tishrei (The murder of Governor Gedalyah, who maintained a level of post-destruction Jewish autonomy, which led to a murderous rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).
The ninth day of Av culminates the 21 days of predicament (ימי בין המצרים), which began on the 17thday of the month of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and by Titus (2nd Temple).
From Curse and Decay to Blessing and Renewal
The month of Av launches the transformation from curse and decay to blessing and renewal. The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew alpha-Beth. These letters constitute the Hebrew word for “father” and “bud,” and the first two letters of the Hebrew word for “spring” (אביבwhich also means “the father of twelve months”). The first letter, א, is also the first letter in the spelling of ארור(cursed) and the second letter, ב is the first letter in the spelling of ברוך (blessed). The Hebrew letters of Av also spell “father” (אב) and are the first two letters of אבל (mourning). The numerical value of Av, אב, (א=1 and ב=2) is 3, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers. The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, which represents the Lion of Judah, rising from the ashes of destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion.
The Passover holiday of liberty/Exodus and the fast of the 9th Day of Av are commemorated on the same weekday, highlighting the devastating cost of critical errors: loss of liberty. The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a holiday of love and rapprochement. Thus the 9thDay of Av is simultaneously a day of lamentation, liberty and love, reinforcing a cardinal lesson: in order to enhance deliverance, one must commemorate calamities, avoid wishful-thinking and be mentally and physically prepared to face crises, while sustaining optimism even against, seemingly, insurmountable odds. A day of destruction could be the first day on the road to construction. A problem is an opportunity in disguise. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), the Messiah will be born on the ninth day of Av.
The author, CEO of Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative, is an insider on US-Israel relations, Mideast politics and overseas investments in Israel’s high tech.
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