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Today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.
Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of Av—Tisha B’Av.
So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:
The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.
Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.
The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.
When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!
One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.
The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.
Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.
What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.
I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks at Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11. Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source no longer available at former website).
The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader.
The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7: “I understood that this (the mourning mentioned in her article) was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.
“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).
As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, “The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.
The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9: “Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’
Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.
“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.” Plain and simple.
“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s yeshivishe.’
“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else” (pp. 8-9).
As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentacostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on . . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.
Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided” or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?
The choice is ours, and we need to start making it now . . . .
Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.
Photo credit here