By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”
1. Remembrance breeds deliverance, while forgetfulness feeds oblivion. According to a legend, Napoleon heard lamentations emanating from a synagogue, while walking one night in the streets of Paris. When told that the wailing commemorated the 586 BCE destruction of the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (on the 9th Day of Av according to the Jewish calendar), he proclaimed: “People who solemnize ancient history are destined for a glorious future!”
2. The verb “to remember” (זכור) appears almost 200 times in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments. Judaism obligates parents to transfer the lessons of tradition/memories to their offspring.
3. Some of the most calamitous events in Jewish history occurred on the 9th Day of Av and are commemorated annually, in order to minimize future calamities, by avoiding past errors, such as ideological polarization which leads to violence.
*The debacle of the Ten Spies (tribal presidents) – Joshua and Caleb excepted – prolonged the wandering in the desert for 40 years, and barred entrance to the Promised Land to all Jews who left Egypt during the Exodus (other than Joshua and Caleb). This calamity was triggered by the subordination of faith and long-term reality/vision to immediate convenience/gratification and conventional wisdom; the mistrust of the divine promise to inherit the Land of Israel; the understatement of Jewish capabilities in face of adversity; and the slandering of the Land of Israel.
*The destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BCE), resulted in the massacre of 100,000 Jews and a massive national exile. This catastrophe was the result of the failed institution of the monarchy (as forewarned by Gideon the Judge and Samuel the Prophet and inspired Thomas Paine’s 1776 “Common Sense”), the post-King Solomon violent rupture of the Jewish Kingdom into the kingdoms of Judea and Israel (Samaria), paganism, incest, and the corruption of Jewish Kings and Priests.
*The destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Roman Emperor, Titus (70 CE) was a result of severe intra-Jewish polarization, unjustified-hatred, physical fighting, moral decay and paganism. It caused the massacre of one million Jews and another massive national exile. The Roman aim was to erase Judaism and the Jewish people from human memory.
*Ten Martyrs – ten leading rabbis – were executed by the Roman Empire: Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel, Rabbi Hanina Ben Tradion, Rabbi Yishmael Ben Elisha, Rabbi Elazar Ben Shamoa’, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Dama, Rabbi Yeshavav the Author, Rabbi Hotzpit the Translator, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Baba and Rabbi Hanina Ben Hachinay.
*The 132-135 CE Bar Kokhbah Revolt was crushed – by the Roman Emperor Adrianus – with the killing of Bar Kokhbah, the fall of his Beitar headquarters – south of Jerusalem in Judea – the plowing of Jerusalem, and 600,000 Jewish fatalities.
*The pogroms of the First Crusade (1096-1099) massacred tens of thousands of Jews in Germany, France, Italy and Britain.
*The expulsion of the Jews from Britain (1290).
*The expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492).
*The eruption of the First World War (1914).
*The beginning of the 1942 deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp.
4. The 9th Day of the month of Av was first mentioned in the Book of Zechariah 7:3. It is one of four annual Jewish fast days, commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Temples: the 10th Day of the months of Tevet (the onset of the Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem); the 17th day of the months of Tamuz (the day the walls of Jerusalem were breached); the 9th day of Av (the destruction of both Temples); and the 3rd day of the month of Tishrei (the polarization-driven murder of the Jewish Governor Gedalyah, which led to a murderous rampage by the Babylonians and a massive Jewish exile).
5. The 9th Day of Av concludes 21 days of calamity and lamentation, which began on the 17th day of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar and Titus, followed by a seven-week period of consolation, ingathering and renewal, which are concluded on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
6. The centrality of Jerusalem in Jewish history is commemorated on the 9th day of Av. It is highlighted by Psalm 137:5:
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
According to the Babylonian Talmud (a key source of Jewish law), Ta’anit 30: “He who laments the destruction of Jerusalem will be privileged to witness its renewal.”
7. The 9th Day of Av yields a message of reality-driven optimism, hope and faith over pessimism, despair and fatalism, irrespective of the odds:
*From the WW2 Holocaust to the 1948 reestablishment of the Jewish State;
*From exile and subjugation to the ingathering and liberty in the Land of Israel;
*From near-extinction and next-to-irrelevance at the end of WW2 to unique Jewish contributions to humanity in the areas of medicine, science, technology, space, education, environment, agriculture, irrigation and military.
The 9th Day of Av demonstrates that crises are opportunities in disguise, transforming curse and decay to blessing and renewal.
8. The message “from destruction to deliverance and renewal” is conveyed by the Book of Lamentations, which was composed by the Prophet Jeremiah, who prophesized destruction, exile and deliverance. The Book of Lamentations – The Scroll of Eikhah in Hebrew – is one of the five Biblical Scrolls: Song of Songs, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and the Scroll of Esther. The Book of Lamentations is read during the first nine days of the month of Av, “the Days of Calamity.” The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of Eikhah (איכה) is 36, which is equal to the number of righteous, legendary Jewish persons, as well as to life (18 – חי) times two. The Hebrew meaning of Eikhah (איכה) could be interpreted as a reproaching “How Come?!”, as well as “Where are you (God)?” or “Why have you strayed away?” The term איכה features in the first chapter of Deuteronomy and the first chapter of Isaiah. Both are studied annually in conjunction with the Book of Lamentations on the 9th day of Av. Thus the 9th day of Av leverages the unique values of Moses (Deuteronomy) and the two Prophets – Jeremiah and Isaiah.
9. The Hebrew spelling of Av (אב) consists of the first two letters of the Hebrew Alpha-Beth, the spelling of “father” and “bud,” and the first two letters of “spring” (אביב which also means, in Hebrew, “the father of twelve months”). The numerical value of Av, אב, (א=1 and ב=2) is 3, the combination of the basic even and odd numbers (“A cord of 3 strands is not easily broken,” Ecclesiastes 4:12). The zodiac sign of the month of Av is a lion, representing the Lion of Judah, rising from the ashes of the destruction caused by Nebuchadnezzar, whose symbol was also the lion. The fast on the 9th day of Av is succeeded by the 15th day of Av – a Jewish holiday of love and reconciliation.
More on Jewish Holiday’s in Yoram Ettinger’s Ebook: Jewish Holidays, Guide for the Perplexed