By Rabbi Shohama Wiener, Reb David Markus and Reb Eva Sax-Bolder
July 15-16 marks Tisha b’Av, when the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE. In modern days, Tisha b’Av means much more: on this day, tradition commemorates all destructions, exiles and sufferings. On this day in 1492, Jewish exile from Spain took effect; Tisha b’Av was the first Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even as the sun shines near full summer strength, Tisha b’Av is the bleakest day on the Jewish calendar.
It’s telling that tradition does not keep us “safely” distant from suffering. Instead, tradition makes time and space for the reality that pain and loss are inevitable parts of life. None can live authentically without days of darkness. Our challenge, and the lesson of Tisha b’Av, is to find courage not to flee or flinch, but to bring comfort and build spiritual strength from within the shadow parts of our lives.
One tradition offers that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam (hatred and closed-heartedness) among the people of that era. If only the people truly loved each other, the teaching goes, the Temple would not have been destroyed. We were exiled, again and again, so we could learn just how much we are connected: how we treat each other deeply matters to our collective fate. Today we are called to hold each other in love because nobody — none of us — is exempt from shadow and loss.
Tisha b’Av also is the gateway into the High Holy Days. Breaching the Temple walls is an allegory for breaching the walls of our hearts, standing open before the Ineffable Power of the Universe. From this day, we need time to prepare for the Days of Awe, a unique time of repentance and forgiveness. Jewish Tradition gives us 49 days — exactly seven weeks — after breaching the walls of our hearts (Tisha b’Av) until Rosh Hashanah. In astounding synchronicity, there also are 49 days after Passover’s first seder until Shavuot. Just as our ancestors needed seven weeks to evolve from slaves into journeyers able to receive the Commandments at Sinai on Shavuot, so do we need seven weeks to uncover our hearts and be fully open to receive and give forgiveness.
In the merit of Tisha b’Av, may each of us find solace in pain, give comfort to all who hurt, summon the strength and courage to love, and join together as the sun turns toward summer, joy and a sweet new year ahead.