The Ninth of Av: A Guide for the Perplexed, 2017
Here are nine thoughts on the Ninth of Av:
1. Forgetfulness feeds oblivion; remembrance breeds deliverance.
According to a legend,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!” The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer tradition and memories to the younger generation.
2. The most calamitous day in Jewish history. The 9th day of Av (the 11th Jewish month) is first mentioned in the book of Zechariah 7:3. One of four Jewish fast days, it commemorates dramatic national catastrophes (related to the destruction of Jerusalem), in an attempt to benefit from history by avoiding — rather than repeating — critical, moral and strategic missteps. It concludes the 21 days of predicament and lamentation, which began when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar (1st Temple) and Titus (2nd Temple), launching a seven-week period of consolation, ingathering and renewal.
3. Major Jewish calamities are commemorated on the 9th day of Av:
Unlike Joshua and Caleb, the other “ten spies/tribal presidents” 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;
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 one million Jews and another massive national exile;
The Ten Martyrs — ten leading rabbis — executed by the Roman Empire;
The Bar Kokhbah Revolt was crushed with the killing of Bar Kokhbah, the fall of his Beitar headquarters (135 CE), the destruction 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 the Treblinka extermination camp.
4. From Auschwitz to the Jewish state, from exile to the ingathering in the Land of Israel. A key message of the 9th day of Av, personally and nationally is: sustain faith and hope, and refrain from forgetfulness, despair, fatalism and pessimism, irrespective of the odds, which may seem insurmountable.
5. The centrality of Jerusalem.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.”
6. From destruction to deliverance and renewal.The Book of the Five Lamentations 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 term איכה features 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 9th day of Av binds together the values of Moses, Jeremiah and Isaiah.
7. Humility — a prerequisite for worthy leadership. Fasting on the 9th day of Av expresses the recognition of one’s limitations and fallibility, and the constant pursuit of moral enhancement The four Jewish days of fasting commemorate 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, which led to a murderous rampage by the Babylonians and to exile).
8. A crisis is a launching pad to growth. 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, the spelling of “father” and “bud,” and the first two letters of “spring” (אביבwhich also means “the father of twelve months”).The zodiac sign of Av is a lion, representing the Lion of Judah, rising from the ashes of the destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was the lion. The fast of the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av — a holiday of love and reconciliation.
9. For more information on Jewish holidays, in general, and the Ninth of Av, in particular, visit here.