The holiday of Tisha B’Av, which begins tomorrow evening at sundown, is known as the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. Tradition teaches that many tragedies throughout Jewish history, including the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, occurred on this day. Tisha B’Av actually marks the culmination of a three-week mourning period on the Jewish calendar, during which we remember the events leading up to this fateful day.
Of course it feels like we've been in mourning not just for three weeks, but rather for four months. Mourning the loss of loved ones, to this untameable virus, first and foremost. But also mourning the loss of our societal pulse, which normally beats with life cycle events like weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, milestones like graduations and birthday parties, exercise classes, public entertainment, dining in restaurants—mourning our loss of a physical sense of community.
In fact, the Book of Lamentations, which is customarily read on Tisha B'Av, begins:
Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people; She that was great among nations is become like a widow; the princess among states is become a thrall.
Never in my lifetime, and I would imagine in yours as well, have these words felt as universally resonant as they do today.
But, Tisha B'Av is not only about despair. It also marks a turning point in the Jewish calendar when, instead of focusing on mourning, the focus shifts to consolation. The liturgy we will read for the next seven Shabbat mornings is from the Book of Isaiah. Nachamu, nachamu, ami, Comfort, comfort, my people (Isaiah 40:1). The prophet Isaiah comforts the Jewish people after the destruction of Jerusalem and their dispersion from the Land. And he speaks of the future restoration of Israel and the renewal of God's glory. These seven weeks culminate in the joyous holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
In this way, the Jewish calendar reminds us that where there is destruction, there is renewal; where there is despair, there is hope. What message could be more fitting or needed right now?
Nachamu, nachamu, ami, Comfort, comfort, my people. May we all have the strength and resolve to hold on to Isaiah's message. And in these next seven weeks and beyond, may we continue to move towards hope and joy.
Wishing you all good health and good spirits,