Israel is unique among the nations of the world in that we are the only nation to memorialize tragedy and loss with the same hope and ultimate joy with which we commemorate our holidays. We celebrate the days of our
He still calls us His children. Can we recognize God's love in these difficult times?
"independence" and of spiritual redemption, among other days, Passover, Shavuot, et al., as well as the day of our exile. In fact, we remember the time of our greatest loss, the destruction of our Holy Temple, for a full three-week period, from the seventeenth of Tamuz to the ninth of Av.
Such a long focus on our tragedy seems strange and would appear to be depressing. However, it all depends on one's perspective. If we focus on ourselves, on our accomplishments and our losses, our own ego, then certainly concentrating on the tragedy for so long would be self-defeating. But if we concentrate on HaKodosh Boruch Hu, understand that He runs the world and whatever happens to us is through His Divine guidance and providence, then we can accept our tribulations with an element of joy, knowing that these, too, are a manifestation of God's love for us.
We can understand that HaShem, our Father, has raised us, but we have rebelled against Him. Although He is forced to reprimand us and punish us, He does so out of love, so that we will correct our ways and grow properly, as any parent raising his child would do. He still calls us His children. Can we recognize God's love in these difficult times, when His face is hidden from us, when all we see is His back, seemingly retreating from us? It is then that we must not give up hope, that we must pursue Him, beseech Him again to lovingly show us His face.
This is the concept that lies at the heart of Shabbat Chazon, the "Shabbat of vision", the last of the three haftorot of tragedy before Tisha B'Av, one for each of the three weeks. The designation comes from the first word of this week's haftorah, "The vision of Isaiah..." The visions of these haftorot seem full of impending doom, for they foretell the quickly approaching hordes that will overrun Israel and destroy the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, one can discern the glimmer of hope even in these foreboding prophecies.
How does Jeremiah, in the first haftorah, envision this prophecy? He sees a rod of an almond tree. Within this image lies the hope that will turn despair into future joy. Right now, this rod is a mere stick, barren of any leaves, buds or fruit. But in twenty-one days, the almond tree will blossom and bear fruit. So, too, in the twenty-one days from the 17th of Tammuz to the ninth of Av, the days that seem darkest and most empty for our nation, already implanted within us is the potential for growth and rejuvenation. This desolation was necessary so that new spiritual life would spring forth, much as the gardener prunes the trees to allow the sunlight in, so that the new growth will be vibrant and healthy.
There is another important twenty-one day period in our calendar, the period between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah. This is a period of great joy when we anticipate our sins being forgiven and reinforcing our close relationship with HaShem, so that He asks us to linger with Him in the Beis HaMikdosh one more day, for Shemini Atzeres. The goal of the twenty-one days of our discussion should serve a similar purpose, to rebuild and reinforce our connection to our Maker, to remain yet one more day connected with Him through our personal Temple. As is written, "And they will make for me a Temple and I will dwell among them." Not "dwell in it," but in each and every one of them, in their hearts.
The greater vision of this time is to internalize HaShem's love for us, in good times and bad, and to open our hearts to His presence, to know Him each day, and to return Him to our hearts, the seat of our emotions and passions.
This is indeed both the hope and the challenge of our lives. We can be driven by either our passions and ego, our heart, or by our intellect, our brains. Our hearts, if given free rein, will run like wild horses in all directions, most likely on a path that leads nowhere or to self-destruction. Its egotistical desires will grow bigger and bigger, and leave room for nothing else. Our intellect, our deep-seated knowledge of HaShem, must hold the reins and guide our heart in the right direction, to perform God's will with love and passion. In this way, we will consolidate our passions and egos to one purpose, and create space for His Spirit to enter our beings, for each of us to become a mini-Temple that glorifies Him. Although the external Temple structure of bricks and mortar was destroyed on the ninth of Av, we still have the power to approach Him through the Temple within ourselves, through the altar of our hearts.
HaShem, in His benevolence, has given us many opportunities to approach Him. Each time we recognize His gifts by saying a blessing, we are approaching Him; each time we extend a hand to another, we are approaching Him. Each Shabbat, on the day that is all light, we can sit with Him symbolically at our table, the altar in our home, discuss His great Book, the Torah, and raise our voices in songs of joy.
At the end of Tisha B'Av we bless the new moon, the symbol of new hope. It will reach its fullness on the fifteenth of Av, traditionally a day of great joy and dancing.
The Moshiach is destined to be born on Tisha B'Av; our redemption is in progress.
The fifteenth letter of the aleph-bet is samech, meaning "support". The letter immediately preceding it is the nun, symbolic of nofel, "fall". The nun seems to fall because it is incomplete, closed on only three sides. It is followed by the samech. Closing up the fourth side, it is no longer wobbling. During the three weeks, we are in a nun condition, unstable and falling. Yet even here, the Moshiach is destined to be born on Tisha B'Av; our redemption is in progress even as we are unaware of it. We move from Tisha B'Av, past the seven traditional days of mourning, to reach the fifteenth day of the month, Tu B'Av, represented by the fifteenth letter of the aleph-bet, the samech.
HaShem supports us, HaShem loves us, in the days of our joy, and especially in the days of our tribulation and exile. We must look beyond the barren rod to its potential. The almond branch will bear fruit and our term of exile will help perfect us, so that we may merit the final redemption speedily, in our days.