Reflections on Tisha B'Av

August 9th, 2011

Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av in the Hebrew Calendar. This is a day of great mourning and lament. It is a day of remembrance of all the horrors that have happened to the Jewish people over the past 2600 years or so. The bad report of the Spies in Numbers, the destruction of both Temples and subsequent expulsion from the land, the inquisition, the crusades, both world wars, and some are even reciting Kinnot (sad poems) over the loss of the Gaza strip from 2005.

Sephardim read the book of Job in the morning on this day, reflecting upon the trouble that he faced and how he came through it. Job’s prayer of repentance in the first few verses of the last chapter are particularly inspiring, for it’s usually not until afterwards that we are able to see how the Almighty works within the most difficult of situations. How He is truly Sovereign over all.

As Job realized, to think anything less requires us to repent in dust and ashes. But how difficult it can be to have that level of faith sometimes, especially when disaster and tragedy is all around us. While this day is particularly about the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, I can’t help but think of the greater scope of those who have desired to at some point serve the Mighty One of Israel. Yes, it is on this day that we remember the destruction of the two Temples that once stood in Jerusalem. But how much more there is to lament than that! Let’s think about all of the destruction that is falling upon our own physical temples, our bodies, which are to be houses for not only us, but He who wishes to commune with us through His Blessed Spirit. How much abuse and spiritual destruction do we do to ourselves through the things we watch, the things we listen to, and various poor habits and addictions that have developed along the course of our lives.

And let us not only be concerned for our own bodies, but what about the greater body at large, the Body of Messiah? While the 9th of Av stands as a day for unity with the Jewish people and those who observe this day are making a declaration that they stand with Israel, even so, I can't help but lament on the destruction and division that exists within the Body of Messiah. The adversary has sought to turn us all away from our Creator by dividing us against one another, against the Almighty’s chosen people, and even against His very word through the myriad of Scriptural misinterpretation. Indeed, we are broken, divided, and blinded.

Oh how much there is to lament. On this day, Megilla Eicha, the book of Lamentations, is read in synagogues all over the world. When we think about not only the native-born of Israel, but those who are supposed to be brought near by the blood of Messiah (Ephesians 2:12-13), these words can come to life in a very profound way for both Jew and Gentile. Truly, they represent the ageless result of that little bit of leaven that leavens the whole lump. When we consider the amount of fighting between those who profess faith in the one true Creator, it becomes apparent that there is a very serious problem that undermines all of this; a root cause that has resulted in all of this destruction.

The people of Israel were warned time and time again to repent. Otherwise, destruction and exile would befall them. But what does it mean to repent? Teshuvah means to return or turn back… but what is it that we are turning back to? The author of Lamentations, Jeremiah, speaks prophetically of this in Jeremiah 6:16 where it states,

Thus says [HaShem], “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16, NASB)
These ancient paths are what the Almighty has laid out from the very beginning for His people to walk in; the very standard of righteousness which sets one apart from the rest of the sinful world. The very Word of the living Creator by which a man lives upon. They are His divine instructions in righteousness which many incorrectly call the law, but which in the original Hebrew is known as the Torah (the instruction or teaching of our Creator). These are the very words that were made flesh in the one whom we serve, Yeshua of Nazareth, the one we recognize as the promised Messiah.

We are called time and time again to turn from sin and walk in this word. In fact, the Apostle John points out that the very definition of sin is the transgression of Torah (1 John 3:4). Many point out rightly that the most important commandment is to love our Creator with all of our heart, soul and strength, but one must amplify this by explaining how one loves the Creator. Indeed, how can we love someone whose own love exceeds our own by such a high degree? John further goes on to explain this by admonishing us to keep the Almighty’s commandments (1 John 5:3) for this is the love of G-d. Indeed, this is the obligation of all those who have been redeemed from the slavery of sin and brought into covenant by the arm of the Almighty (which is identified in Isaiah 53:1 as Yeshua Himself). But how deeply this concept has been misunderstood! We have an anti-Torah church thanks to the religio-political influences of the Roman Empire from centuries past, and there exists a spirit of anti-Semitism that plagues most of the world today for no good reason. But, this is reason why many so strongly observe Tisha B’Av. And rightly so! It almost seems as if I had a mere penny for everything I could lament over, that I would be able to end world starvation. That’s a lot to handle.

Truly truly however, the root cause of all this destruction is disobedience to the Almighty Creator of the universe. Am I then saying that the solution is for all to return to Torah? It should actually come as no surprise, because this is what the prophets have always told those who are in covenant with blessed Creator. Yet, we all seem to fall short, and this why the Set-Apart One, blessed be He, proclaimed that He would renew the covenant in such a manner that we would no longer fall away as in times past. Unlike the covenant that was broken by the forefathers of Israel, this time the Almighty promised to write the Torah upon our hearts with His very Spirit, as Jeremiah proclaimed in his 31st chapter. Yet, even with the foreshadowing of that covenants greater fulfillment with the workings of the Spirit in our day and age, we still seem to need help, for we are still falling short

The brother of our Master proclaims “Draw near to G-d and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a). We must press in and quicken our spirit to His Spirit. Yes, as Rav Shaul points out, our bodies are Temples for the Almighty’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), but how can He dwell in a temple that is defiled? This is why James continues immediately by saying,

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Master, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:8b-10 NASB)
I almost wonder if James was thinking of Tisha B’Av when he wrote that. Indeed, with the level of lawlessness that exists in the world, it’s no wonder our beloved Master proclaimed,

“I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49 NASB)
Truly, if all of that which caused us to stumble were consumed by fire, how much easier it would be to follow the path of righteousness. But as things stand now, it seems the only thing to help the remnant unify and be of one accord is the intense fire and persecution that is said to befall upon the earth in the latter days. Such is considered a blessing within the words of the prophets and apostles, and that’s why the persecuted believers in China pray for us here in North America to receive such hardship. Because it is that very hardship which will humble us so that the Almighty Creator can then take control and exalt and bless us. But as things stands now, here in the west we are a breeding ground of lukewarm complacency, spoiling ourselves on the blessings from those who established this land and attempted to build these nations upon Scriptural principles. Yet, even within that tale there is much bloodshed, further proof for how much there is to lament over.

My own shortcomings leave me with a feeling that I am not even worthy to fast on this day. In the grand scheme of things I feel so weak; so worn out. It is in these moments where He must become my strength, where His Spirit empowers me to do the things in which we are called to do as faithful servants of His Kingdom. And it is up to ALL of us to rely upon His Spirit with the utter determination of devoting ourselves completely without reserve to His guidance. We must all place aside our own biases found within the man made infrastructure of religion and politics. We must mould ourselves to HIS image, not try to mould Him to what we see as being socially and culturally acceptable. We have to give it all up and just say “You are the Lord of my life, whatever you say, I will do”. If His Word commands it, do it. No compromise! While we may wish to please our family and friends we must realize that if we are to love the Creator with all of our heart, and all of our soul, and all of our strength, than there is a line that must be drawn for ourselves. A line that says, I’m sorry, but I serve one who is far above all blessings, and songs and praise! Because to love Him with our whole heart means that we will never compromise on the way in which He has proclaimed His people to walk, the same way that He has proclaimed from the very beginning which was demonstrated perfectly by the manner in which His Beloved Son walked here on earth before the eyes of men!

It is only within that place of total surrender to Him, a place in which we truly cleanse our hands and draw close to Him where we will not only be faithful servants of His kingdom, but it will be a place in which we will be able to see beyond the lamenting of Tisha B’Av to a greater future. A future where Messiah will rule and reign with us and the magnificence of the Blessed Creators presence will be able to dwell in such a fullness that has not been experienced since the paradise of Eden. A place where “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Let us all keep these things in mind, for as the 9th of Av passes we have the 40 days of repentance beginning at the end of this Hebrew month that lead up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Truly, there is much to lament about, but there is also much to look forward to. And as we approach the days of repentance, those very same days that John stood in the wilderness preaching and immersing, let us remember that we are preparing for the return of Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom which will bring forth everlasting peace. A peace brought forth with the greater fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34 where we will no longer have to worry about the safety of our family, our friends and our fellow man, for all will know the Blessed Creator, and He will be there among us forever and ever. Amen.