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Tisha B'Av

Jerusalem, 9 Av 5751: Although I cannot see the Kotel, I can sense its proximity, just beyond and below me. I am on the roof of a building in the Old City, seated there with a group of women, listening to the ancient cadences of Eicha, the book of Lamentations, in the dark of erev Tisha B'Av. After our service, I make my way down to that remnant of the Temple, whose loss, and the resulting devastation to our people, we have just lamented. Despite the late hour, the throngs of people create the illusion that it is daylight. Walking back to my apartment in San Simon, I feel strangely ... comforted. After all, I am in Jerusalem.

***

There are many Jews who have no experience of Tisha B'Av. So the notion of calling the Shabbat after this date Shabbat Nahamu, the Sabbath of comfort, seems a curious one. The parsha, Va'et'hanan, is simply paired with a text from Isaiah that begins with the word nahamu.

It offers, of course, many more layers of meaning. It is the first of seven Shabbats, the sheva d'nehamta, the seven [haftorahs] of consolation, that mark the weeks between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashanah. The prophetic readings that accompany each parsha, therefore, are a piece of the journey.

The journey motif is one of the layers. During the Israelite's desert journey, Moses had sent scouts ahead to the land of Canaan, who returned with the report that the promised land was unconquerable, due to the enormous size of its inhabitants. Upon hearing the resulting wailing and weeping, states a midrash, the Holy One declared: "Now they give themselves to weeping without cause, so, throughout the generations, I will make this very night [the 9th of Av] an occasion for weeping for them."

The classic associations of this date are related to the destruction of the Temple, and to other calamities that befell the Jewish people on that date. Thus from mourning both destruction and sin, the haftarot, beginning with this week's reading from Isaiah, move us towards teshuvah, return, and renewal.

Why is it, then, that for many, this date on the liturgical calendar holds less meaning that others? Are there simply mundane, practical factors and explanations? Could it also be that since the reclamation in 1948 of the land as the state of the Jewish people - and, more significantly, of the Old City in 1967 - the historical and spiritual need to observe this fast is less pressing?

Yet what could be more pressing to the body of the Jewish people that the state of its spiritual home? Though we live in galut, outside the land of Israel, we all retain some kind of connection to that land, just as we all yearn for its peace.

On the 17th of Tammuz, the fast day that launches the three-week period that leads to Tisha B'Av, three Jewish organizations convened a national fast to support peace and justice. Those taking part held a vigil at the U.S. Capitol, and among other things, lobbied for Middle East peace by encouraging a rapprochement on Jerusalem.

This year, Tisha B'Av, as it often does, coincided with anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Fellowship for Reconciliation, the country's oldest faith-based peace organization, acknowledged this confluence on the steps of the Pentagon, with a multi-faith prayer service.

The yearning for peace and a non-violent world is embedded in the traditions of Tisha B'Av. It is said that the Messiah will be born on that date, birthing peace out of war-mongering and destruction.

***

Washington, 9 Av 5760. I stand in front of the five-pointed building, gazing towards the monuments and structures that symbolize freedom, democracy, and justice. I pray, on this holy fast day, with other Jews, with Muslims, with Christians. We express our hopes and dreams for a decade of peace and non-violence. I say: "There are warriors who turn into peacemakers. There are visionaries struggling to actualize what remains tantalizingly close, yet out of reach. Let us stand with them, these visionaries, these warriors for peace. May we join with them, wherever they may, that all our peoples may one day know comfort, security and peace. Ki mitziyon tetze torah udevar adonay miyrushalayim . lo yisa goy el goy herev, lo yilmedu od milhama; For out of Tzion shall go Torah, and out of Jerusalem the word of Adonay .. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more."
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah