Av: A Time of Sorrow and Comfort

We have entered the Hebrew month of Av, the fifth month in God’s calendar as instituted in Exodus 12:2. The month of Av has what may be the saddest day of the year for Jewish people, and yet this month of sorrow also speaks of God’s faithfulness and redemption.

This month is best known for the fast day Tisha b’Av, the Ninth of Av (July 17/18, 2021), which commemorates the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. and the Second Temple by Rome in A.D. 70.

Image: Flight of the Prisoners by James Tissot (1902)

Flight of the Prisoners by James Tissot (1902)

Other calamities in Jewish history are also mourned on this date:

  • God declared the exodus generation would not enter the Promised Land after the Israelites believed the 10 spies’ bad report (Num 14, Mishnah Taanit 4:6).
  • Roman emperor Hadrian built a pagan temple on the Temple Mount and banished Jews from the city one year after the last Bar Kokhba stronghold fell in A.D. 135.1
  • King Edward I expelled all Jews from England in 1290.
  • Spain expelled all Jews in 1492.
  • Deportations began from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp in 1942.

“The 9th of Av thus became a symbol for all the persecutions and misfortunes of the Jewish people,” explains Encyclopedia Judaica, “for the loss of national independence and the sufferings in exile.”

Even in the midst of mourning, rabbis see hope. “Av” means “father” in Hebrew. God is ever the faithful Father to his people Israel (Mal 1:6; Deut 32:6), even in times of trouble. The night sky also speaks of hope through the constellation Leo, visible during Av. There is a rabbinic teaching that says that though the lion of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, another lion, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, will arise to rebuild Jerusalem.

The month does have a happier day, Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av (July 23/24), a holiday of love with connections to the Day of Atonement. This holiday, originating in the Second Temple Period, marks the start of the grape harvest, which ends on Yom Kippur. On Tu b’Av, the young women would dress in white and dance in the vineyards, inviting the young men to choose their brides. Today, the 15th of Av is a popular day for Jewish weddings.

As the Jewish people remember the calamities they have survived – some of them shamefully perpetrated by Christians – let us speak comfort to our Jewish friends and neighbors (Isa 40:1). Let us affirm that the God of Israel is indeed faithful and remains their Father. The Father has already sent the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the son of David, to not only proclaim peace to the exiled but to make atonement for all our sins. Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah of Israel, the Bridegroom (Matt 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-25), will return to build the heavenly Jerusalem here on earth so that God will dwell with his people forever (Rev 21).

Further reading

1 Hadrian also renamed the land of Israel, then known as Judea and Samaria, as Palestina, the Latinized form of Philistia.

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