In Our Virtual Mishkan, Reflections: Rabbi Zachary Goodman

“The Month of Av Stands Alone”

Chodesh Tov! Today we mark the beginning of the month of Av, about which the Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 29a, states that “When we enter Av, our joy is diminished.” Why? Next week, on the ninth day of the month, the Jewish people commemorate Tisha b’Av, a day set aside for fasting and mourning the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. However, as Liberal Judaism does not assign a central religious role to the ancient Temple, mourning the destruction of the Temple may not be particularly meaningful for us. In modern times, many Reform Jews understand Tisha b’Av as a day to remember the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history and to reflect on the suffering that still occurs in our world.

The date itself, tradition teaches, is the anniversary of all kinds of other atrocities, from Crusades to the Expulsion from Spain to the Chmielnicki massacre in Poland in the 17th century to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto during the last century. Tisha b’Av is a dark day. It’s also a darkness which contains within it the seeds of light and redemption. This sentiment is beautifully captured by the poetic words of Suzanne Sabransky, in a poem entitled, “The Month of Av Stands Alone”.

The Month of Av Stands Alone

In all of our history,
With all that we have been through,
The month of Av stands alone…

Going back to the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple,
Back even before that,
Back to a time that we stood
Gazing upon the promised land,
Afraid to enter,
Afraid of what we had been told,
Ever since that trial of faith,
Av has stood alone…

The litany of evils is long and harsh,
The list of wrongs done to us is cruel
The worst of things continue even today.

Tisha B’Av is a day we fast,
A day we mourn,
A day we remember.

Tisha B’Av calls to us,
With echoing voices from long ago,
Voices lost as sword upon sword fell.
Yet, those voices call with a message,
A message of strength not loss,
Av does indeed stand alone…

If I were to tell of all we have lost
If I were to recount the destruction
If I were to enumerate the horrors,
Relive all the pain and the tears,
I would be telling you truth,
But I would be promoting a lie.

You see there is always another side,
To every story, every tale
Every detail and every recounting,
Because in the telling of what we mourn,
We must also find reason to celebrate,
A reason to find joy in knowing we survive.

In all of our history,
With all that we have been through,
The month of Av does indeed stand alone…

And so today, as we fast and pray,
As we allow ourselves to mourn the losses,
We must also remember to celebrate…

We must acknowledge the miracle of survival,
Despite the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple,
Despite the ovens, and rampant antisemitism,
Despite all of that and so much more
We, stand here today…
We stand ready and able to testify,
To the truth of our survival,
To the proof that Adonai shelters us,
Even through the most devastating of storms.

And that is why,
The month of Av,
Has and always will,
Stand alone..

A holiday that expresses the soul of the Jewish people; a day of darkness paired with a sense of hope. The Talmud says, “When the month of Av enters, one should decrease in joy.” The Hasidic rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (1861-1937), said that, though the Talmud says to “decrease in joy,” it should be read, “decrease…in joy.” In other words, though it is proper to mourn, even in that mourning, we should do so joyously, knowing that better times are ahead.

I hope you will join Cantor Rosen and me for shacharit services the morning of Tisha b’Av, Thursday, July 30, where we will come together as a community to pray, grieve, chant sections of Eicha – Lamentations, and learn.

For a wonderful short video about Tisha b’Av, its history and rituals, please follow this link.

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