Two months ago, we experienced the heartrending day of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av.  It is the anniversary of many a tragedy for the Jewish People, from exiles and expulsions, to war and destruction.  It all began when the Meraglim (Spies), returned from their explorations of Eretz Cannan while the nation traversed the Midbar.  Their report:  Negative, subjective, fearful, and discouraging.  Of course, upon this event, national hysteria ensued.  The Bnei Yisroel forgot that G-d was with them, would wage their wars, and had given them the Torah to guide them through the smooth and rough of building anew in their promised home.  It was in a way a serious rejection of emunah (belief in G-d).  Hashem was angered by their tears, which were devoid of any real sense, and vowed, “Since you wept on this day for no reason, it shall eternally be a day of real grief for you!”

Through the suffering of this day, for so many generations, we’ve been rebuked by Hashem…  and hopefully we have been compelled to correct the errors of the past with fresh new devotion.  The Jews were banished from England in 1290, and Spain in 1492, on Tisha b’Av.  On this day, the last Jewish War came to a bloody halt, as Bar Kochvah, military beacon of Israel, turned against his morals and fell in battle, in the betrayed stronghold of Beitar, as Judea was taken captive by the wicked Roman Legions.  But on the 9th, we also became bereft of two of our greatest treasures…  Both the first and second Batei Mikdash were destroyed; the first, built by Shlomo haMelech, was ravaged by Nevuchatnetzar of Babylon, and the second, erected by Ezra, was burned to the earth by Titus of Rome.  The first destruction was punishment for our violation of the three greatest aveiros, of idol-worship, immorality, and bloodshed, which we must give up our lives to avoid engaging in.  The second destruction was on account of the sinas-chinam, baseless hatred, that burned all bridges of connection and respect between the various communities of Israel.  With the Churban (Destruction), G-d’s Shechina was obscured in this holiest place of Yerushalayim, and the peace and kedusha that were trademarks of the city disappeared.  With each Churban, we were sent off on a long and painful Galus (Exile) tormented, persecuted and shamed along the way…  But even upon our return to the Holy Land, we’ve never yet recovered spiritually.  We are still struggling through a deeper-reaching darkness.

It is important to live b’simcha, with joy; but over the course of the year, as the sun rises and sets, we might forget our current state, what we are missing and striving to re-attain, and the pain that lays with the soul of each and every Jew in our Galus…  On Tisha b’Av, we take the time to bring all the memories once more to the surface, and to open our ears to the little voice inside that cries out with the agony of the past.  The many prohibitions that are accorded to the day, sharply reflecting the practices of a mourner, all combine and serve to create the frame of mind befitting the gravity and solemnity of this time.  We read the Navi Yirmiyahu’s (Jeremiah’s) Book of Lamentations, called Megillas Eichah, and recite Kinnos, the heartbreaking dirges relaying the destruction of Yerushalayim, and the fall and suffering of the Jewish People.  May none of us ever again have to experience such loss and horror.

We might ask if the prophets and paytanim (Hebrew liturgists) can actually do justice in truly capturing the terror that abounded the period…  I don’t know.  Perhaps they did, but in this time we are often unable to comprehend such monstrosities occurring in reality.  May Hashem avenge the blood of all the lost souls.    I felt that one of the most agonizing aspects of the Kinnos, was that of the loss of young life.  One reference lies with  the following Kinnah:  Kinna 16 – Z’chor asher asah tzar/Remember what the tormentor did:

“Atah katzafta v’hirshayta  l’fanos, y’ladim asher ain bahem kal m’oom misham l’hafnos.  Lamah ragshu goyim v’lo shata el hamincha p’nos, v’shilchum b’eretz ootz b’shalosh s’finos.  — You (G-d) were so enraged that you allowed them to empty (the Temple of its contents), and to remove from there (Jerusalem) the unblemished children.  Why do you allow the nations to gather (against me) while you ignore my offering, paying it no attention?  They sent them (the children) away to the land of Uz in three ships.” {Kinnos 16: kuf-reish} *

The composer of this Kinnah formed this scene derived from a story given over in the Gemara (in Gittin), and Midrash:   Either the emperor Vespasian, or his son Titus who later succeeded him, abducted and corralled 400 Jewish youths, girls and boys, and packed them into three vessels, shipping them off to Rome to be employed in immoral affairs.  The children, when learning of this, decided that they would never disgrace Hashem, and preferred to give up their lives to avoid doing so.  How did they go on to accomplish this?  The Kinnah continues:

“‘Hashiveinu shivu’ k’va’u b’nivchei yam, v’shitfu atzma yachad linpol bayam.  Shir v’tishbachot shor’ru k’al yam ‘ki alecha horagnu bimtzulot yam. — ‘Bring us back!’ (to life in the World to Come) they cried out as they sunk into the sea’s depths, as they united themselves with a solemn pact to cast themselves into the sea as one.  They sang song and praises as (Israel did) at the Sea of Reeds, chanting, because for Your sake we are killed in the depths of the sea!” {16:shin}

This is where a great deal of my unrest lay.  Why did these children have to die?  What did they do wrong?  While adults went astray and fell so drastically from their spiritual stature, these children combatted the very sin that was their elders’ shame!  Why were the children lost on account of the parents’ errors?  Why was their young life, so full of potential cut down?  The next generation, they were the future and continuation of the nation…  Hashem, Your ways and reasons are too far beyond our human perception….

Astoundingly, unbelievably, inspiringly, the young people decided as one, down which path they would point their life:   They would never comply with living a life of immodesty in a defiled metropolis…  instead, they would make the ultimate sacrifice to remain pure and devoted to Hashem.  The children were visited by one challenging reservation– they weren’t  initially sure if becoming martyrs was the called-for action in their situation.  They feared that if it wasn’t, then on account of forfeiting their life in this world, they would also forfeit their portion in Olam Haba.  To assuage this concern, Hashem granted the young people Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, through which they cried out verses from the Torah, that answered their question and granted them solace.  We are taught that Hashem called out to the young people a pasuk from Tehillim {68:23}:  “My Lord promised ‘I will bring you back from Bashan, I will bring you back from the depths of the sea.'”  (The name “Bashan” is connected to “busha – shame”, alluding to the disgrace we feel before Hashem, that results from falling below our bar for decency.)  With this, Hashem assured them that He will revive and honor all those who hold onto the Torah’s convictions, even when they are forced into the most painful and dark situations, and are compelled to give up their life, such as these children.

And what did these brave youths sing in response as they made the ultimate Kiddush Hashem?  As they leapt into the waters, the children on the first ship cried “Have we forgotten the Name of our G-d and extended our hands to a strange god? {Tehillim 44:21}”  Those who leapt from the second vessel called “Is it not so that G-d can examine this?  He Who knows the secrets of the heart! {44:22}”  The captives of the third boat declared “Because of Your sake we are killed all the time, we are considered as sheep for the slaughter. {44:23}”

“Ki t’homos ba’u ad nafsham, ‘kal zot ba’atnu v’lo sh’chachanucha chilu l’mamashan’, tikvatam natnu l’mayshiv mibashan, uvat kol nishma ‘urah lamah tishan.’ — Even as the depths were about to take their souls, they prayed to the Real One, saying ‘All this has befallen us, yet we have not forgotten You!’  They placed their hope in the One (Who promised) to bring them back from Bashan, and a heavenly voice was heard, ‘Awaken!  Why do you seem to sleep?'”  {16:taf}

Utterly dedicated to G-d, they returned their souls to Him, at the greatest price.  They died with a song of pure faith on their lips.


Their unbelievable act did not go unrewarded.  Although Hashem will revitalize their very same souls with the coming of Moshiach (please, let it be now!), He created a time and opportunity in which the tables of tragedy were turned to the diametric opposite.  There is, as the fourth pasuk of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) most profoundly states:  “Ais livkos v’ais lis’chok ais s’fod v’ais r’kod. – A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing.”

Following the passage of six days after Tisha b’Av, is a festival called Tu b’Av– the fifteenth of Av.  Quoting the Gemara (Taanis):

There were no greater festivals for Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur. On these days the daughters of Jerusalem would go out… and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? “Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for yourself….”

And so it is written, “Go out, daughters of Zion, and see King Solomon, in the crown with which his mother crowned him on his wedding day and on the day of his heart’s rejoicing” (Song of Songs 3:11). “His wedding day” — this is the Giving of the Torah; “the day of his heart’s rejoicing” — this is the building of the Holy Temple, which shall be rebuilt speedily in our days.

Tu b’Av was a holy time, of making matches of young couples, and sparking the beginnings of new Jewish homes.  The shattering of Jewish unity that was one of the deepest-reaching agonies of Tisha b’Av, was countered by the rebirth and rejuvenation of strong bonds, commitments, and love.  After the long period in which G-d was so profoundly concealed, His hand once more showed itself through the miracle that is called marriage, of brining one soul to meet their other half, in perfect wisdom for who is best suited to whom.  Yom Kippur (it’s coming up!) and Tu b’Av, are in fact times of ‘renewed marriage’ between us and Hashem: Yom Kippur, is a pure and complete fusion of our souls with their Source; and Tu b’Av, the time of healing succeeding the suffering, rekindles our faith in G-d, and causes us to celebrate “crossing over the threshold” into Yemos haMoshiach, eternal days of world-harmony and soulfulness; may it be now.

— The Messenger Bird