"When we enter Av, our joy is diminished." (b.Taanit 29a)
The distress that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz intensifies as Rosh Chodesh Av appears in the sky. Last month, we remembered the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. But during Av, the enemy struck the center of Jerusalem—the temple. And yet, even in destruction there is consolation.
The days from Rosh Chodesh Av to the fast of the ninth of Av are referred to as the "Nine Days." In Jewish communities worldwide, prohibitions intended to decrease joy are implemented. All these reach a climax on the fast of the ninth of Av, a fast similar to Yom Kippur. These prohibitions are not intended to be overwhelming, but to turn our minds toward the seriousness of sin and its consequences.
This is a basic truth that we can never neglect. Sin is deviation from the "target" of the Torah that God has established for us. Missing that mark, whether intentionally or unintentionally, has consequences. God by his very nature is holy. His presence cannot abide in the presence of sin, hence the connection between sin and the destruction of the temple. His temple was to be a place of purity and holiness, yet Israel turned it into a place of idolatry. Thus, his presence left the temple and destruction ensued.
Yet, even in destruction there is consolation. After Jeremiah prophesied judgment, he delivered a message of deliverance to the nation of Judah.
"For I am with you," declares the LORD, "to save you...I will not destroy you completely. But I will chasten you justly and will by no means leave you unpunished." (Jeremiah 30:11, see also 46:28)
God's discipline is a means to an end; that is, a restored relationship via repentance.
"Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the LORD. We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven...I called on your name, O LORD, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, 'Do not hide your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.' You drew near when I called on You. You said, 'Do not fear!' O Lord, You have pleaded my soul's cause; You have redeemed my life." (Lamentations 3:40-41, 55-58).
Through judgment, we are reminded of our need for God's mercy. The month of Av reminds us that we are sustained by the mercy of God. When properly grasped, this consolation of Av naturally leads us to the next step...the repentance of Elul.
May your month be filled with the realization of God's mercy and "tzom kal," have an easy fast!