Reflections on Tisha B'Av, the Ninth of Av Commeration of the Destruction of the Holy Temple

    August 2011          
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Tisha b’Av

By Deborah Masel

How does the city sit solitary, that was full of people…On Tisha b’Av Jews lament the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the long night of exile. Like the Holocaust, Tisha b’Av is a spiritual rock bottom, a black hole of divine abandonment in which the covenant between God and His people seems smashed beyond repair. My eye, my eye runs down with water, cries the Prophet Jeremiah, because the Comforter that should revive my soul is far from me. On Tisha b’Av, as Jews fast and read the Book of Lamentations, an iron wall separates the gift of heaven from the sight of earth.

 How then is this annual day of mourning followed by seven ‘Sabbaths of Comfort’, when the relationship between God and His people is evoked in the verse from the Song of Songs, ‘I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine’? How does the absent God become the Beloved? How can we find God at all in a world of indescribable suffering? Judaism responds by asking ‘how can we not find God there?’ Torah emerges from the Sinai wilderness, the Talmud from the pit of Babylonian exile. Job, afflicted and bereaved, hears God speak from midst of a whirlwind. Adam, hiding in the Garden of Eden, hears God’s voice in the depths of his own despair. Where are you? The hidden God calls to us with our words to Him, and a dialogue is opened, the iron wall is breached. We are comforted by the fact of revelation in a place of darkness, by a call, a cry, a whisper born of our recognition of the great distance between God and man.

 The world of Tisha b’Av is a world of broken dreams, of devastation and despair. For the Jewish people, it is an abyss of unimaginable suffering and a reminder of the recurring threat of annihilation. Yet from the abyss, redemption comes. The Messiah, say the sages, must be born on Tisha b’Av, for there is no great light but that which comes from deepest darkness.

 On Tisha b’Av we sit by rivers of blood and tears that flow from Babylon to Babi Yar . How can we sing the Lord’s song in an ocean of suffering? If I forget you, O Jerusalem , may my right hand wither, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth...  Our longing is our one true song, writes the Rabbi of Piacezna in 1942, in the Warsaw Ghetto. It is the song of songs, from a world beyond words; the song of faith after Auschwitz .


from the August 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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