Duality within a Day of Fast: mourning and consolation.
Tisha B’Av is an excellent example for the principle I call Duality, that ties two opposites together. My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi David Zaslow, prefers to call it Unity, not Uniformity. It seems to counter each other; though, I find that it is the very same principle. For me, Duality works better, because it forces me to look for both opposites separately as I recognize that they both ARE actually ONE.
The full Hebrew Name of the Month is Menaḥem-Av. Menaḥem means comforting, consoling. Av is father, and another image that we refer to HaShem. What a wonderful combination: Comforting Father”! And it goes deeper to additional sub-layers.
According to Rabbi Shmuel, adding the “Comforting” adjective to the “Father” brings the feminine side, the mother, to be in front and center.
Rabbi Shmuel Said: The way of the Father is to be compassionate and merciful, as we read in Psalm 103:13:
As a father has compassion for his children, so Adonai has compassion for those who revere Him with aweץ
כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל בָּנִים רִחַם יְהֹוָה עַל יְרֵאָיו
And the way of the Mother is to comfort, in addition to the compassion she has (Isaiah 66:13):
As a mother comforts, consoles, her son So I will comfort you; You shall find comfort in Jerusalem.
כְּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אִמּוֹ תְּנַחֲמֶנּוּ כֵּן אָנֹכִי אֲנַחֶמְכֶם וּבִירוּשָׁלַ͏ִם תְּנֻחָמוּ
(Sources: Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 19; Yefeh To’ar on Bereshit Rabbah 78:8:1)
Now, add to it that the masculine Father associates with the Sefira of Ḥokhmah, Wisdom. The feminine Mother associates with Binah, Understanding. Both merges together into Da’at – Knowledge. The Union of the Idea, intellect, with the emotions is the Yiḥud, a word in Hebrew that combines uniqueness with togetherness. These three represent the conscious Upper Emanations that stand for the Divine, the EinSof.
What do we mourn on Tisha B’Av.
We mourn so many things that happened on or around this day:
Legend says that the report of the 10 spies that opinioned strongly against going to the Land of Israel was on that day.
- The destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, 586 BCE.
- The destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, 70 CE.
- Beitar, the main stronghold of the Rebels led by Shim’on Bar-Kokhva with the support of Rabbi Akiva, was conquered and destroyed by the Romans, on the 9th of Av 132 CE. Most of the Jews that still lived in Eretz Israel were killed and deported.
- King Edward I of England signed the Edict that commanded the expulsion of the Jews from England on 9th of Av 1290.
- The big expulsion of Jews from Spain happened on the 9th of Av 1942.
- Herman Gering signed a letter that authorized the Final Solution on the Evening of the 9th of Av 1941.
- The major eviction of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka death camp took place on the 9th of Av 1942.
Tradition is to spend the majority of the night in reading the Scroll of Eikha – the Book of Lamentations. Since then, many Rabbis and poets added lamentations and elegies to Tisha B’Av liturgy. And we also do that, following the examples of our sages. Along that notion, let me offer another elegy to our collection, one that goes way before the First Temple. The event is the falling of King Shaul and his son, Yehonatan, in the battle against the Philistines.
In my humble opinion, this calamity is of an enormous order. The first King of Israel, the first one ever anointed to God, was slayed and his Dynasty was terminated. The Israelite Kingdom was defeated and put under the rule of the Philistines. Many lost their lives in battle, their bodies defiled.
David, not officially a King yet, expressed his deep pain and sorrow in this extremely moving Elegy (II Samuel 1:19-27). This very elegy is often recited in Israel during the Memorial Day that precedes the Independence Day. As you read it please remember and cherish all those who gave their lives, Sanctifying HaShem, in all the destructions and subsequent resurrection of our People, Am Israel.
Consolation Right Then and There During the Destruction
In Avot D’Rabbi Natan (ch. 4) we read this story: Once, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, left Jerusalem, and Rabbi Yehoshua followed after him. And they saw the Holy Temple destroyed. Rabbi Yehoshua said: ‘Woe to us, for this! The place where all of Israel’s sins are forgiven via the bringing of sacrifices is destroyed!’. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: ‘My son, do not be distressed, for we have a form of atonement just like it. And what is it? Acts of lovingkindness, as it says), “For I desire kindness, not a well-being offering” (Psalms 89:3)’.
Makkot Tractate (24b) tells a different story about Rabbi Akiva and his response to the destruction of the Temple. Yet, the message is the same, a message of consolation, reassurance and comfort. Here is an abbreviated version of the story that still delivers the message of comfort:
On another occasion Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi El-Azar ben Azariah, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were ascending to Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. As they approached Mount Scopus and saw the site of the destroyed Temple, they ripped their garments in mourning. At the Temple Mount, they saw a fox that emerged from the ruins of the Holy of Holies. They began weeping, and Rabbi Akiva was laughing. They asked him: For what reason are you laughing? Rabbi Akiva asked them back in response: For what reason are you weeping?
They said to him: This place is the Holy of Holies, into which no one except the High Priest can emerge out of, living (Numbers 1:51), and now foxes walk in and out of it; shall we not weep?
Rabbi Akiva said to them: Here is why I am laughing. We all know that The Holy One Blessed be He, revealed the future to Uriah the Priest and to Zekhariah (Isaiah 8:2). Uriah prophesied during the First Temple period, and Zekhariah prophesied during the Second Temple period. It is clear that the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zekhariah is dependent on fulfillment of the prophecy of Uriah.
Uriah prophesized that Zion shall be plowed, Jerusalem shall become rubble, and the Temple Mount will be a forest with foxes around (Micah 3:12). Zechariah envisioned that “There shall yet be elderly men and elderly women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 8:4). Now, that I witness with my own eyes that the prophecy of Uriah with regard to the destruction of the city happens I am certain that also the prophecy of Zekhariah Shall Happen. The Sages responded: Akiva, you did comfort us; Akiva, you did comfort us.
Consolation Today, Within the Book of Eikha (Lamentations)
During Tisha B’Av it is customery to read the book of Eikha. At the very end of Lamentations, there is a single verse, that we repeat it twice, as the closure of the reading (Lamentations 5:21):
הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהוָ֤ה אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה; חַדֵּ֥שׁ חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם
My own interpretation, a translation that adds the sublayers of additional meanings of the Hebrew words is:
Please answer us, Adonai, please help us, make us return to you!
Then we will turn back [from the wrong paths we strayed, into that place so] we can return back to you. Renew our days forward, into the future, as we were in the past, as we face East, to Zion and Jerusalem.
Today, we mourn the calamities that are an integral part of our history, our story. And let us also find consolation in the flourishing of the State of Israel, the beginning of the blossoming of our redemption.
The video clip that follows is a short address I prepared for Havurah Shir Hadash congregation. The Tisha BeAv of 2023 was marked with a deep divide among the Israelis themselves that also spread out to the Diaspora. I argued that we must learn from our own history, so as to avoid its repeat in present days.