TISHA B’AV : Day of Sorrows
By: Rabbi Michael Stepakoff
In 21st Century America, September 11th has become a day on which we recall one of the worst tragedies in American history. Similarly, in Jewish tradition, Tisha B’Av has long served as a date in which the people of Israel remember tragic events of the past.
Tisha B’Av is literally the ninth (tisha) day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar, and is a day characterized by fasting, mourning, and solemn repentance. It is considered to be the saddest date in Jewish history, because, incredibly, many of the worst tragedies in Jewish history have occurred on the 9th of Av. Most importantly, the 9th of Av is the date in which Jewish people mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.
Destruction of the Temples
The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Both events happened on the 9th of Av. In each incident, the destruction of the Temple resulted in the exile of the Jewish people from the land, and Jerusalem falling under the power of a foreign, idolatrous nation.
Some might say, why have a date where we remember catastrophe and tragedy? A simple answer might be found in the words written by King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes,
“There is an appointed time for every thing; and a season for every event under heaven . . . . . . . a time to weep and a time to mourn”. 3:1-4.
Traditions and Modern History
Some of the traditional customs of Tisha B’Av are similar to Yom Kippur, such as fasting, and refraining both from washing and wearing gold, jewelry or leather. Also, the book of Lamentations is read in many traditional synagogues.
From the most ancient times, the fast of Tisha B’Av was practiced primarily to remember the destruction of the Temple. However, amazingly, it also marks the date of many other tragedies occurring throughout Jewish history; most notable is the expulsion of the Jews from Spain on the 9th of Av in 1492.
Other important incidents occuring on the 9th of Av include the outbreak of World War I, on August 1st, 1914, and the beginning of the 1942 mass deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto, resulting in millions of Jews being murdered in death camps during WWII.
Nobody can say why there is such inhumanity in the world; nobody can justify or explain the Holocaust; yet, we are able to rejoice in the knowledge of one irrefutable fact - that one of the worst tragedies of the Jewish people quickly led to a great blessing: the rebirth of the modern state of Israel. This in no way can ever justify, explain, or excuse what occurred during the Holocaust. But Jewish prayers from the last 2000 years were at last answered, just as God had promised through the prophet of Isaiah (Is. 66:8):
“Who has ever heard of such a thing?
Who has ever seen such things?
Can a country be born in a day
a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor
than she gives birth to her children.”
The first Shabbat (Sabbath) after Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, which means “comfort”. It is so-called because after the day of mourning, we begin reading from Isaiah 40:1-3, beginning with the word “Nachamu”:
“(Nachamu) Comfort, yes, comfort my people! says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her... For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Although the Temple has twice been destroyed, and the Jewish people twice exiled, the Scriptures and the Gospel of Messiah were spread to the whole world! God also promised in the end of the age, to restore the Jewish people to the land of Israel and to rebuild the ruins.
It is truly amazing that today, in our very own time, the nation of Israel is being revived, and Jewish people around the world are increasingly giving their lives to Yeshua (Jesus). Let us remember that soon, the whole world will see the sign of the Son of God, returning with the armies of heaven, to place His throne within Jerusalem forever!