The Ninth of Av: "Blessed Are Those Who Mourn"
This year the Ninth of Av begins at sundown on July 15th and ends at nightfall on July 16th.
Being told "no" is seldom a pleasant experience, especially when that answer is preceded by great hopes and expectations. It can take a long time to heal emotions after the sting of rejection is felt. Such is the case in parasha Shelach. Here the children of Israel are given an answer that proves to be almost more than they can handle. They are told that because of their sin they will not enter the Promised Land.
The Israelites would be destined to wander in the wilderness for forty years and would never see the land of milk and honey. They were to die in the desert. How things had changed since that miraculous trek through the Sea of Reeds. Words of praise and hope from the song they composed and sang that day still echoed in their heads.
Nevertheless, HaShem had a very good reason to do this. He knew that this generation was not ready to enter the Promise Land. They had clearly demonstrated this through the episode of the spies. A period of training and testing was needed to refine the Israelites and get them ready to live in Israel. His ways are not ours.
The day the Israelites received this news would be remembered for generations to come. Through meticulous calculations, the sages derive that this day fell on the Ninth of Av.
"The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: "You have wept without cause, therefore I will set [this day] aside for a weeping throughout the generations to come."
The Tragedies of the Ninth of Av
Many tragic things are said to have happened on this day, such as the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the beginning of World War I, as well as the advent of that horrific and gruesome event, the Holocaust. Although these are all painful events in Jewish history, the Ninth of Av is most infamous for the destruction of the Temple.
The destruction of the first Temple is recorded in Jeremiah 52:12 as happening on the "tenth day of the fifth month," the 10th of Av. Yet, in the book of 2 Kings it is written that this event happened on the "seventh day of the fifth month." The sages reconcile the difference in dating by explaining that the destruction began on the outer walls and those of the courtyard on the seventh, while the entire Temple was not completely destroyed until the tenth. It was decided then that the Ninth of Av would be the memorial of this catastrophe.
In 70 CE the second Temple was also destroyed on the Ninth of Av. Of the two destructions, the second has clearly had the most impact on Israel's history. Whereas the first destruction lasted only for a few hundred years, the second has lasted now for almost two thousand. Rabbi Feuer gives a sense of the grief this has caused:
"What are we lacking? The answer is that we have everything--except the Holy Temple! We have been driven from our ancestral home, banished from the "family residence." In spiritual terms, we are homeless!"
The Loss of the Temple
The Temple is the focal point of life for Israel and without it, a void exists. In the Torah HaShem instructs Israel to build Him a tabernacle so that He could, "dwell among them." This was to be the place where the Israelites would experience His presence to the fullest extent possible. That's not to say that His presence isn't everywhere, but at the Temple it would be found at a level like nowhere else.
Yeshua and the disciples had great respect for the Temple and spent much time there. The Master refers to the Temple as "My Father's house" He taught in the Temple at almost every opportunity He had while in Jerusalem. When the Master cleansed the Temple, it demonstrated His intense reverence for the House of God. After His death, the disciples imitated His practice and "were continually in the temple praising God." This continues throughout the book of Acts, where the Temple is central to the life of the early believing community.
The physical Temple also represented the spiritual Temple that is within each one of us. The Hebrew words behind the phrase "dwell among them" could also be read as "dwell in them." HaShem desires to dwell inside His people. We are the "Temple of the Holy Spirit." The physical Temple served as a model for the inward. Both need to be kept pure.
The Reason for the Loss
If the Temple was so important to both God and Israel, then why was it destroyed? Just like the extra years in the wilderness HaShem must have had a reason. A suggested answer is found in the Talmud:
"But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause."
The people had become experts at the application of the outward commandments of Torah, but were at the same time severely lacking in the internal aspects. Sinat chinam (baseless hatred) was rampant and seemed to permeate all parts of society. The Master himself saw this issue and taught the people to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." To Him, a life of Torah was not complete without an inward change. Love and compassion were to be the benchmarks of a life dedicated to Messiah.
The other side of extreme hate is a life of overlooking wrong that has been done to us. The Rabbis look at this as the ultimate remedy to fix the current exile:
"Has it not been taught: Concerning those who are insulted but do not insult others [in revenge], who hear themselves reproached without replying, who [perform good] work out of love of the Lord and rejoice in their sufferings, Scripture says: 'But they that love Him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might.'"
Yeshua also spoke of "turning the other cheek" and "not resisting an evil person." Both the Master and the sages agree that "passing over one's rights" was one of the highest goals of a Torah walk. It seems that Yeshua tried desperately to prevent the Temple's destruction through His teachings. Yet the people of His day did not allow their inward Temple to be purified and thereby profaned the physical Temple. At the end of His life He foresaw the worst:
"And Yeshua said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.'"
Fasting to Commemorate the Ninth of Av
Traditionally, the Ninth of Av is remembered with a complete fast from sundown to sundown, marked by refraining from both food and water. It is also a custom to read the book of Lamentations on this day. Although there is no command to fast on the Ninth of Av found in the Torah, the prophet Zechariah mentions the fast of the fifth month. An allusion to the future fasting of the disciples is seen in the Master's words, "But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."
Yeshua knew that days were coming soon when fasting would be most appropriate. He states, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." What would people be morning for? Isaiah proclaims comfort for those who are mourning the desolation of Jerusalem, which would include the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Our Sorrow Will Turn to Joy
It appears that right now God is saying "no" to the rebuilding of the Temple. The sages have said, "Any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is considered as if it had destroyed it." Why has the Temple not been rebuilt? Perhaps it is because of us. We are no more righteous than those of long ago. We still lack unity and love amongst ourselves. Our inward temples have not yet been fully purified, so the Ninth of Av should be a day to reflect on this. It is a day of repentance for our sins as we strive to improve through the help of the Holy Spirit.
There is hope. Remember Yeshua tells us that the mourners shall be comforted. The Temple will be rebuilt, and Messiah will return to be with us for eternity. Zechariah declares that our fasts will become feasts as we celebrate what HaShem has done:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.'"
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