This Saturday night (July 17 2021), immediately after Shabbat (the Sabbath) ends, Jews across the globe will remove their jewelry, exchange their leather shoes for canvas sneakers and sit, not on chairs, but on floors as they chant Eichah (The Scroll of Lamentations) in synagogue. This book, written by the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century BCE, describes the events leading up to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. This Saturday night begins the Fast of Tisha B'Av, which ends at sundown on Monday night.
A time of sorrow and devastation
From the opening words of the book of Eichah -
“Eichah yashva badad haIr rabati am, haita k’almanah. Rabati vaGoyim sarti bamedinot hayita lamas” “How has the city, that was once so populous, remains lonely! She has become like a widow! She, that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become the tributary” - it's clear that this is a book recounting the devastation that befell the Jewish people, the destruction of the First Temple.
Almost 600 years later, the same fate would befall the Jews when the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE. And 65 years after that, the last Jewish stronghold of Betar would fall to the Romans.
The name itself is simply the date: Tisha B'Av - the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. Three weeks before this date, on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached leading to the destruction of the Temple. This period is still commemorated with Jews refraining from celebrations; no weddings, no concerts and no dips in the ocean. Tisha B’Av is the crescendo of our national mourning. We don’t greet each other, we don’t wear tefillin (phylacteries) during the morning prayers. This day is so sad that we even refrain from learning Torah.
Never forget the past - never ignore the future
The Jewish People have a unique quality: we never forget our past nor do we ignore our future. We mourn our tragedies, but we know our strength lies in our future. And so, as painful as Tisha B’Av may be, we know that a time of rejoicing is not far off.
Tu B'Av and a time of joy and hope
Just six days after Tisha B'Av, comes Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av. During Temple times, this date marked the beginning of the grape harvest and the completion of the cutting of wood for Temple sacrifices. Young girls would don white garments and dance in the fields. Again, young Jewish couples will be married under the chupa and joyous singing will be heard through the hills of Jerusalem.
Today, in the modern State of Israel, we will return to the concert halls and theaters of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; to the wineries of the Golan, to the springs of Samaria and to celebrating happy occasions.
The New Year is just around the corner
And then it's only seven weeks until Rosh Ha'Shanah (Jewish New Year),when we re-evaluate ourselves as individuals, as a people and as a country. Looking backward, but not forgetting to consider how to contribute to a better future.
The penultimate verse of Eichah is a well-known phrase, “Hashiveinu HaShem eleichah v’nashuva, chadesh yamenu k’kedem" '''Return us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old."
May you all have a meaningful fast. How blessed we are to know that next week, Jews will be singing and dancing in the hills of Jerusalem as they did in Temple times.
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