Month of comfort
By Rabbi Haviva Horvitz
Temple Beth Sholom Middletown
Please allow me to let you in on some behind-the-scenes information. Simply put, at the beginning of the “season,” all of the rabbis involved with writing articles for The Dayton Jewish Observer are sent an email with the list of due dates and topic ideas.
We are asked to make our top three choices, and Marshall Weiss skillfully does the best he can to enable us to write the article we have chosen for the issue we want.
Some rabbis choose their article based on the particular topic; there is something specific they wish to say. Others base their choice on the due date and when there is time in their respective schedule.
What have I done for the past few years? I take the last available opening; I like the challenge. In addition, I often find that I learn something new when I leave my choice to chance.
Therefore, here I am, writing an article during a relatively quiet time at the beginning of the summer. This month’s Dayton Jewish Observer topic — although I am well aware that I don’t have to keep to any topic — is the observance of Tisha B’Av and/or the July Fourth Independence Day holiday. These two days have seemingly opposite reasons for observance. How can these two be combined intelligently into one article?
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day in the Hebrew month of Av, is often described as the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. On this date, the two Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, the first in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the second in 70 CE by the Romans.
In addition, it is the day on which Betar, the last stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion, fell in 135 CE and, one year later, the Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city, Aelia Capitolina. In 1492, Tisha B’Av was the day on which Jews were exiled from Spain.
On the other hand, it is supposedly the day on which the Messiah will be born. It is typically Jewish that with each new catastrophe, not only do we endure, but we also come back even stronger.
For example, following the loss of the first Temple, the renewal of Torah came, under Ezra. After the destruction of the second Temple, the Midrash, Mishnah and two Talmuds were written.
It is said, for that matter, that when Rabbi Akiva stood on Mount Scopus with his colleagues and saw the city of Jerusalem in ruins, while the others wept and mourned, Rabbi Akiva smiled.
The others could not understand and asked why Rabbi Akiva did not weep. He explained that the prophets foresaw Jerusalem’s destruction and they also foresaw its rebuilding. Now that the first prophecy has come true, Rabbi Akiva found comfort in the knowledge that the second one will come true as well.
Similarly, although we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we must not forget what it took to get American independence. There is a heartfelt scene in the Broadway musical (and movie) 1776, during which Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, reading a letter from George Washington, details: “I can now state, with some certainty, that the eve of battle is upon us. Toward this end, I have ordered the evacuation of Manhattan, and have ordered my men to take up stronger positions along the Brooklyn Heights. At this time, my troops consist entirely of Rhode Island Militia, and Smallwood’s Marylanders, a total of 5,000 troops to stand against 25,000 of the enemy. How it will end, only Providence can direct. But dear God, what brave men I shall lose before this business ends.”
If it hadn’t been for hope and faith, and a belief that what we are fighting for is truly worth it, then success might not have been the result.
Although the name of the Hebrew month is Av, tradition has given the month the name: Menachem Av, the month of consolation, or comfort. As long as we have hope, we will not be defeated.
It has been said that just as the Jewish people kept hope alive, so too has hope kept the Jewish people alive.
As we observe Tisha B’Av with fasting and mourning, and, as we celebrate American Independence Day with food, parades and fireworks, let us take the time to remember the hope that was necessary with each historic event.