July/August 2020


Prior to the Second World War and the Holocaust, the Ninth of Av was without a doubt, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It is preceded by the three weeks of "rebuke" and followed by the seven weeks of "comfort and consolation". We are prone to quickly judge others and to judge ourselves yet many find it difficult to practice kindness and that is precisely what we crave the most. This day of mourning and sadness commemorates the destruction of both temples and the loss of our independence, sovereignty and land. Ancient historians all point to strategic, imperial politics as the reason for these destructions. Tiny Israel was a wedge of sandy, rocky soil which separated Egypt's Nile from Mesopotamia (Tigris/Euphrates civilization). It lay between Africa and Asia and hence was a natural target of super power aggression.  According to our tradition however, these calamities befell our ancestors because of sinnat hinnam, i.e. baseless, gratuitous hatred of one Jew for his fellow. At each festival, our Prayer book states: "Mipnay Hattaenu... Because of our sins we were taken into exile." We mourned the loss of comfort and strength which came from our connection to God. The temple was not merely a place of worship. It was a symbol of wholeness; a place where we could become one with the Lord, since its structure stood beyond and outside of time, it alone offered the assurance that God dwelt there and that all was well. 


Following the humbling confrontation with our own failures, Israel needed several weeks of comfort to heal and to acknowledge that despite our flaws and imperfections, we can still grow and change. We are still worthy of love. We can repent and refocus and chart a new direction in life; small wonder that numerous Sages considered Tisha B'Av to be the start of the High Holiday season.


Upon witnessing the ruined Temple, Rabbi Joshua declared: "Woe unto us that the Holy place which atoned for our sins has been destroyed"  and his companion Rabbi Johannan responded: " Do not  grieve on this account for we have another way of atoning for our sins and that is Hessed--acts of loving kindness which we can perform for others." Yes, we suffer and age, we fail to live up to our ideals and we are disappointed when others fail us, however, the Ninth of Av is here to remind us that life itself is the greatest gift. We take strength in sharing it with others and that very fact unites us with one another and with the Eternal source of all being.  We can be comforted.