From Despair to Hope: The Month of Av

While most in the Western hemisphere are enjoying the summer soaking up as much fun as possible before fall hits, the Jewish world enters into the most devastating time of the year.


Calendar, Jewish CustomsAug 5, 2016

CalendarAug 5, 2016


Lamenting in the synagogue, 1887, by Leopold Horowitz (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

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The month of Av is the fifth month of the year on the Jewish calendar and shows up right smack dab in the middle of summer sometime during July and August. It’s actually quite a contrast.

While most in the Northern hemisphere are enjoying the summer and trying to soak up as much sun as they can before fall hits, the Jewish world enters into the most devastating time of the year. That’s because it is during Av, specifically on the 9th day of the month, Judaism commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the “fast of the fifth month” that is referred to in Zechariah 8:19.

But even before that there are three weeks of mourning and the heightened nine days of mourning that begin on Rosh Chodesh Av. During these nine days traditional Jews refrain from, among other things, listening to music, drinking wine, and even swimming and to some level bathing. It’s all meant to decrease ones joy. A large portion of Av is spent lamenting for the sins of the past and petitioning God to have mercy in the future. In reality it’s not something that people generally look forward to. If I were to be honest, Av is like a black mark right in the middle of a beautiful summer.

But along with the association of the destruction of the Temple, mourning practices, and fasting with the month of Av, there is a strange tradition that the Messiah will be born at this time. Here’s the legend as told in the Midrash Rabbah:

It happened that a man was ploughing, when one of his oxen lowed. An Arab passed by and asked, “What are you?” He answered, “I am a Jew.” He said to him, “Unharness your ox and untie your plough” [as a mark of mourning]. “Why?” he asked. “Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed.” He inquired, “From where do you know this?” He answered, “I know it from the lowing of your ox.” While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again. The Arab said to him, “Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born.” “What is his name?” he asked; and he answered, “His name is ‘Comforter’.” (Lamentations Rabbah 1:51)

In this obscure midrash an Arab not only informs a Jewish man that the Temple has been destroyed during the month of Av but that the Messiah was born during this month as well. Specifically these events are both being associated with the Ninth of Av. But why would the Messiah be born on the Ninth of Av? Rabbi Abun comes along and states that Scripture teaches that the two concepts—“exile” represented by the destruction of the Temple and “redemption” represented by the birth of Messiah—go hand in hand:

Rabbi Abun said: “… there is an explicit text wherein it is stated, ‘Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One’ (Isaiah 10:34), which is followed by, ‘There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit’” (Isaiah 11:1). (Lamentations Rabbah 1:51)

In other words, even at the beginning of exile and the destruction of the Temple, God promises that one day the Messiah will come and redeem Israel. The story is not so much about predicting when the Messiah will be born but to point out that even in total darkness there is light in the distance.

Now, we disciples of Yeshua know that the Messiah had already been born some seventy years before the Temple was destroyed. He came urging Israel to repent and turn back to HaShem, which would have thwarted the exile and instead brought on the Messianic Era. But instead here we are in an almost 2,000-year exile.

However, there is hope in the words of our Master. He tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Although the whole world is in a period of exile, those who mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel will be comforted when Yeshua returns and brings redemption not only to the Jewish people but to the whole world. The Master is alluding to the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

To proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:2-4)

In that day we will all rejoice and enjoy the splendor of the Messianic Age. Returning to words of Zechariah 8:19: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: '… The fast of the fifth … shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts.’”

Although in this present age we mourn in Av and think about the sins of the past that brought the exile to begin with, there is a glimmer of hope that shines in the distance. We know our Master is returning soon to make things right and turn the mourning of the month of Av into rejoicing. May it be soon and in our days. Amen.

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About the Author: Toby Janicki is a teacher, writer, and project manager for First Fruits of Zion and Vine of David. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has written several books including God-Fearers: Gentiles and the God of Israel. More articles by Toby Janicki

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