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What is Tisha B'Av?

The fast of Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, is called a " moed," a festival, in the Book of Lamentations. Indeed, for this reason, the daily " tachanun" prayer, the penitential prayer is omitted, as it is on all joyous days. Is this to imply that Tisha B'Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of both Temples, the exile of the people, the sin of the spies, the massacre at York, the Expulsion from Spain and countless other tragedies is a festival?

Well, actually, yes. That is the secret of Jewish survival. Let me explain.

A few years back, I was visiting the most notorious spot on Earth, the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was with a friend, who was having an especially difficult time coming to grips with the magnitude of the experience. He said, in effect, that it feels wrong to be able to come here on a sunny day, visit a few hours and leave. Half a century before, people came there in cattle cars to be murdered. By what merit are we not subject to the same fate?

Immediately I saw how the perspective had been turned upside down. He felt that the experience of those holy martyrs was the normal one, and our freedom was a special dispensation by God. How much we must treasure it!

But, in fact, the Maharal of Prague, that great sage and mystic of the 16th century, shows us the exact opposite. The normal state of the world, he says, is for there to be a Temple in Jerusalem and the people of Israel dwelling securely in their land. That is the natural state of affairs that God desires. Exile is a suspension of normalcy. The fact that so many calamities all befell us on the 9th of Av is a sure indication that God's Providence is indeed active. That, alone, is the greatest proof that the Temple will be rebuilt and the exile will come to an end. Similarly, Rabbi Akiva of the second century laughed when he saw the Temple in ruins, because he saw in those ruins the promise of an even greater future rebuilding.

Rabbi Sinai Adler, z”l, of Mevaseret Zion, Israel, was a Holocaust survivor. He said that his faith in God was strengthened by his experiences, because it was so obvious to him that the Holocaust was a suspension of the course of nature. In his words, " When you are being hit repeatedly, you know that someone is hitting you. It's not random objects raining blows on you." Thus, ironically, at a time when God, as it were, hid His Face, He was directly showing His existence. And since Talmudic tradition states that God's kindness is greater than his strict justice, we can only imagine how great the future that awaits us truly will be.

Thus, despite the magnitude of our national suffering and mourning, or, rather, in inverse proportion to it, we have the hints of a glorious festival on Tisha B'Av. Let the day be soon when we shall all rejoice in the Messianic era of peace, brotherhood, song and prayer!

In this section: Month of Av Home --- Am Yisrael Chai --- Nachamu Ami --- Im Eshkachech