Monthly Archives: July 2015

Month of Av: Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av

“The Lord has rejected all my strong men In my midst; He has called an appointed time [moed] against me to crush my young men; The Lord has trodden as in a wine press The virgin daughter of Judah. (Lam. 1:15 NASB)

Chodesh AvThe month of Av is the eleventh month on the Hebrew civil calendar and the fifth month on the Hebrew biblical calendar. This corresponds to July/August. Av literally means “father” (aleph-beht). It is customary to add the name Menachem to Av, which means “comforter” when speaking about this month because it is associated with many tragic events, yet our Father brings comfort. Thus, many refer to this month as “Menachem Av” (Comforting Father). We will explore this in more detail below.

According to tradition, each of the twelve (or thirteen) months on the Hebrew calendar correspond to one of the tribes of Israel. The month of Av is associated with Simeon (Shimon). Shimon’s name means to “hear.”[1] By examining the themes of the month of Av, it becomes increasingly obvious that one’s sense of hearing (or lack thereof) is the vehicle by which one will find themselves mourning or rejoicing. The question and consequent meditation for the month of Av is:

 “Will we heed the voice (Word) of YHWH? Or will we listen to evil reports and the desires of the flesh?

History and tradition records many events where the Children of Israel’s “hearing” was tested in the month of Av. Sadly, the testimony is usually a lack of hearing which resulted in great judgment. Consider the following list that is said to have occurred on the ninth of Av or Tisha B’Av.

  • During the time of Moses, the people believed the evil report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
  • The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Israelites were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
  • The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
  • The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar – the Jews’ last stand against the Romans – was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
  • The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city – renamed Aelia Capitolina – and access was forbidden to Jews.
  • The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B’Av in 1492.
  • World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B’Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
  • On the eve of Tisha B’Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.

the-destruction-of-the-temple-of-jerusalem-francesco-hayez-1867-282589_958x340These details from history makes one wonder if the timing of these calamities is mere coincidence. Does the LORD have an appointed time to “break” us?[2] According to Jewish tradition, He does, and that date is associated with the ninth of Av. Reread the verse from Lamentations quoted at the beginning of this post. In Hebrew, YHWH indeed has a “moed” or appointed time to break His wayward people. The LORD allows these calamities to come upon those that are His in order to bring them to repentance. It is our rebellions, shortcomings, and stiff-necks that provokes His hand against us. Like any loving parent, YHWH uses punishment in order to guide, teach, and protect His children. And like Him, we often set aside a particular time to mete out certain reprimands to our own children.

Just as a father has compassion (mercy) on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. (Ps. 103:13) 

Though the month of Av is connected with judgment and tragedy, it is equally linked to God’s mercy. The good news is that even when we are stiff necked or have closed ears, YHWH still loves us. So, though the focus of Tisha B’Av is denying oneself and repentance, there should be a transition in the observer from mourning to celebration.  One may grieve over past tragedies and rebellions, but hope is always in the Menachem Av (Comforting Father). It is His divine mercies that give one a hope for a good future. This is the essence of Tish b’Av. Remember the past, but move forward with an attitude of gratitude and a burning hope for a better future.

How to Listen

Most of my readers are aware of what it means in Hebrew to Shema. It means to hear/listen AND obey what is heard. The Jewish response to the tragedies enumerated above was to mark this infamous date as a day of fasting and repentance. It is important that one remembers, so they do not repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. But, one’s attitude in these matters is paramount. Listen to the question YHWH asks in Zechariah:

“Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? ‘When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? (Zec. 7:5-6) 

Our mourning, fasting, and rejoicing must be sincere. Notice how hearing and a lack thereof leads to punishment and exile in the rest of this passage:

Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. “And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts; “but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus, the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.” (Zec. 7: 8-14)

It seems that most every Word from the LORD leads back to the two greatest commandments: Love YHWH and love your neighbor. You want to really listen? You want to really hear the LORD? You want “ears that hear”? The Torah, the commandments, and the Word teach how to love YHWH and one’s neighbor. But, one must be humble enough to heed His voice.

How Not to Listen

Shimon, as the tribe of Av, and the name associated with hearing, has much to teach this month. Let’s see if we can learn from Shimon’s and his descendant’s mistakes. I find it fascinating that the man whose name means to “hear” seemed to often have closed ears. It seems ironic, but is it? Are we any different?

First, if you will recall, it was Shimon and Levi that decided to take justice into their own hands when Shechem violated their sister Dinah.[3] This enraged Jacob and he reprimanded his sons for their rash behavior.[4] Later, when Jacob blessed his sons, Shimon and Levi receive more of a rebuke than a blessing:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. “Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel. (Gen. 49:5-7)

Notice that Jacob’s rebuke is similar to YHWH’s edicts against us when we are wayward. Exile or scattering, is one result of sin. Shimon and Levi acted in unholy anger when they attacked the Shechemites. We must be careful when someone kindles anger in us (right or wrong), for more often than not, we become the greater sinner when we allow our actions to be ruled by inflamed flesh. A reddened face full of rage makes one more like an Esau (red), and no better than a hairy beast. This will only bring wrath upon our own head and division in our camps.

Later, it seems that the Levites find favor from HaShem; but, as the LORD’s inheritance, they remained scattered throughout the tribes. When Moses hands out the tribal blessings, he says of Levi:

Of Levi he said, “Let Your Thummim and Your Urim belong to Your godly man, Whom You proved at Massah, With whom You contended at the waters of Meribah; Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; And he did not acknowledge his brothers, Nor did he regard his own sons, For they observed Your word, And kept Your covenant. “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, And Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, And whole burnt offerings on Your altar. “O LORD, bless his substance, And accept the work of his hands; Shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, And those who hate him, so that they will not rise again.” (Dt. 33: 8-11)

Shimon doesn’t fair quite as well. Moses skips over Simeon altogether when he blesses the tribes of Israel.[5] Rashi says that this is because of what happened in Shittim when Israel played the harlot with the daughters of Moab. Two particular characters in this drama were Zimri (a Simeonite) and Cozbi (a Midianite). They were in the throes of passion when Pinchas skewered them at the doorway of the Tent of Meeting, which stayed the plague. (Numbers 25)

Again, we see the one that should have had ears to hear given over to the passions of the flesh. Instead of boiling with anger, this time we see a Simeonite inflamed with a perverted sexual desire. Can you see a pattern developing here? The one that should have ears to hear is deaf to the instructions of the Creator. He is ruled by desire, his lower nature, making him no better than a beast of the field.

Unlike the other tribes (save Levi), Shimon didn’t receive a separate neighboring portion in the Promised Land. Instead, Shimon was scattered in various towns and cities within Judah’s allotment.[6] Jacob’s rebuke held true for both Levi and Shimon. Some of our actions have long lasting and dire consequences, even though we have found forgiveness.  This takes us back to the other themes for this month (Av): mourning, repentance, remembrance, and finally, joy. The good news is that one day, YHWH will turn all of our fast days into joyful celebrations for those that love truth and peace.

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace.’ (Zec. 8:19)

Meanwhile, We Remember

Interestingly, there is only one person that the Torah records the exact date of their death. That man was the High Priest, Aaron.

Then Aaron the priest went up to Mount Hor at the command of the LORD, and died there in the fortieth year after the sons of Israel had come from the land of Egypt, on the first day in the fifth month. (Num. 33:38) 

Aaron passed from this life on the new moon of the fifth month of Av. It seems that from this point forward, Av would be associated with mourning. Since Aaron is directly connected to the Tabernacle and later Temple, I find it incredible that both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples were later destroyed in the very month that her original High Priest passed away. There are many reasons for us to mourn these losses, but there are also reasons to wipe our tears away and look forward to a better hope/future.

wipe-tears-550x320The move from mourning to celebration is mirrored in the traditional haftarah reading for the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av. This Sabbath is called “Shabbat Nachamu” or the Sabbath of Comforting. The haftarah reading is from Isaiah 40: 1-26 and speaks of comforting God’s people after their suffering.

Moreover, by the time the moon gets full during the month of Av, another traditional holiday emerges: Tu B’Av (fifteenth of Av). After all the mourning of Tisha B’Av, the people begin to rejoice. Like the ninth of Av, there are several events that are associated wih this date in history; but instead of destruction, this date brought great reprieve and comfort to the people.

The first mention of Tu b’Av is in the Mishna (Taanit), where it says , “There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What they were saying: Young man, consider who you choose (to be your wife).” (Taanit 4:8). According to the Gemara, on this day the “tribes of Israel were permitted to mingle with each other.” (Taanit 30b)

Here are few things that are said to have occurred on Tu B’Av:

  • The death of the generation that left Egypt ended. (Ending the judgment for believing the report of the 10 evil spies.)
  • The daughters of Zelophehad were granted an inheritance like sons.
  • Members of the Tribe of Benjamin were readmitted to the community (Judges 19-21)
  • King Hosea, the king of the Northern Kingdom, removed the restrictions of King Jeroboam that prohibited the northerners from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
  • The Romans permitted the Jews to bury their dead who fell at Beitar.
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As you can see, the month of Av ebbs and flows with the themes of destruction (judgment) and renewal. While Jews refrain from marrying during the mourning period of Av, the later part of the month, beginning with the fifteenth, marks a strong transition in their countenance. So much so, that many do marry on or just after this date. (Or new courtships are started.) This is the epitome of mourning turning into joy! As such, Tu B’Av is said to be a festival of love, quite a contrast to Tisha B’Av.

I encourage you to do your own research on Chodesh Av, Tisha B’Av, and Tu B’Av. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips you need only use them. For now, I thought it best to leave you with a few bullet points for ways to celebrate and meditate during the Rosh Chodesh of Av and the fast of Tisha B’Av.

Chodesh Av

  • Meaning: Av means Father. Mazel for this month is aryeh (the lion).[7] (A clever eye will notice that this month pictures both the Father and the Son.)
  • Major theme: Destruction and Renewal.
  • Meditation: Hear (Shema) the voice of Adonai. Discern between the voice of YHWH and the desires of the nephesh (flesh). Misplaced zeal can quickly become the latter.
  • Remember: The Tabernacle, fallen Temples, and other rebellions of the past. Learn from them.
  • Look Forward: To our heavenly High Priest, Yeshua, the third Temple, and the eventual New Jerusalem.

Tisha B’Av

  • Fast from sundown to sundown on the ninth of Av (unless it falls on Shabbat, then fast the following day). Feel free to look up other traditional things to avoid during the fast such as not wearing leather shoes, perfume, and avoiding baths. (These are ways to “afflict your soul/nephesh” as you focus on lamenting and repentance.)
  • Confess your sins and the sins of our forefathers. (Remember that many of the atrocities that happened to the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av came by the hand of Christians.) Daniel 9 gives a model of confessing the sins of others.
  • Read through Lamentations.
  • Search for Scriptures that speak about God’s mercy on His people and passages that deal with fasting and repentance.

 

For more understanding of why nine (Tisha B’Av) is associated with both judgment and blessings click here and here. For more on the significance of five, as in the fifth month and fifteenth day (Tu B’Av), click here and here


[1] Gen. 29:33

For the month of Av being associated with Shimon, see Artscroll’s Wisdom in the Hebrew Months.

[2] The Hebrew word translated as “crush” in the Lamentations verse above is Strong’s number: H7665. It literally implies breaking or brokenness. Brown, Driver, and Brigg’s Hebrew defines it thusly:

שׁבר

shâbar

BDB Definition:

1) to break, break in pieces

1a) (Qal)

1a1) break, break in or down, rend violently, wreck, crush, quench

1a2) to break, rupture (figuratively)

1b) (Niphal)

1b1) to be broken, be maimed, be crippled, be wrecked

1b2) to be broken, be crushed (figuratively)

1c) (Piel) to shatter, break

1d) (Hiphil) to cause to break out, bring to the birth

1e) (Hophal) to be broken, be shattered

[3] Gen. 34:25

[4] Gen. 34:30

[5] Dt. 33. Shimon is absent from the blessings.

[6] It appears to me that Judah takes authority and care over the Simeonites. This is likened to Yeshua taking care of and covering us for our sinful mistakes. In other words, we didn’t “shema,” hear.

[7] This is NOT astrology! The enemy has twisted the monthly constellations into a perverted way to divine the future and/or disposition of a person. But, YHWH says the stars were put in the sky to mark the seasons (moedim), to be as signs, to distinguish day and night, and to give LIGHT upon the earth. The heavens declare the glory of God. This includes the stars and the constellations. A careful look at the Creator’s handiwork will reveal that the constellations proclaim the Gospel, and were never meant to divine one’s personal finances, love life, or the like.

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