The Hebrew calendar is full of holidays. From the weekly Sabbath, to the yearly High Holy Days, every month contains sacred occasions. Some of our holidays are specifically joyous. These include Simchat Torah and Shavuot where we celebrate receiving the Torah and Tu BiShvat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees, which has become a modern Jewish Earth Day. Other holidays, like Hanukkah, Purim, and Passover commemorate Jewish victories over enemies who sought our destruction. We are joyous in our celebrations and at the same time that we recall how close our ancestors came to calamity. And there are days set aside each year to remember the occasions when we were defeated.
This weekend and early next week we will observe Tisha B’Av – The Ninth of Av, throughout Jewish history, this is a day when our people suffered. We commemorate the destruction of both the First and the Second Temple in Jerusalem (587 BCE and 70 CE respectively), the Roman massacre of 100,000 Jews at Betar during the Bar Kokba revolt (132 CE), Jewish expulsion from England (1290 CE), France (1306 CE), and Spain (1492 CE), and the mass deportation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942 CE) among other Jewish tragedies. Tisha B’Av is traditionally a day of fasting and mourning. We read about the destruction of Jerusalem from the book of Lamentations. The worship liturgy also contains readings relating to the other losses suffered on this day throughout history.
Tisha B’Av officially takes place this coming Monday Night and Tuesday. We will be marking it at Shabbat services this Friday. This year, KI will embark upon a yearlong study of the Prophets. At our Torah Study, we have already switched our weekly discussion from the Torah portion to the Haftarah portion – sections taken from our Prophetic tradition. In the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, the Haftarah comes from the book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah lived during the time of the destruction of the First Temple and the Jewish exile to Babylon. Jeremiah witnessed the ransacking of Jerusalem. Rather than condemning the Jewish people and Judaism to die in exile, Jeremiah ends his prophecy with a message of hope. For him, it is always possible for our people to rebuild and renew their religious and spiritual connections with one another and to the Land of Israel. Jeremiah’s legacy, in fact, the legacy of the Jewish people, is that even in the face of existential destruction, we have survived. With each threat to the Jewish people and to Judaism, there emerges a new shoot, a new community that seeks to breathe new life into our faith and tradition. The story of the Jewish people did not end in 587 BCE, or 70 CE, or 1942. Many lives were lost. Many towns, villages, and holy places were lost to bigotry and hatred, but our spirit has remained intact.
This Tisha B’Av the Jewish people and the Nation of Israel again will be mourning the loss of Jewish life. May we have the courage and the faith to know that we are stronger than our enemies, that bigotry and hatred will not destroy us. We will mourn our losses past and present, but we will also write the next chapter of our people’s story.