Torah Thoughts: Parashat Devarim 5778
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Parashat Devarim is always read during the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’Av. Why is this? Because in this parasha Moses reminds us of the story of the ten spies, who caused a terrible crisis among the Children of Israel after delivering a misleading report about the land of Canaan. As a result of the events that happened after this, God decreed that the generation that had left Egypt would die in the desert. According to the sages, that decree was given on the night of Tish B’Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.
However, what is Tisha B’Av and what do we commemorate on this day? Tisha B’Av is a fast day, the only day in the Hebrew calendar (apart from Yom Kippur) in which we fast for a whole day. It is a day of mourning to commemorate many tragedies that happened to the Jewish people. Many of these tragedies occurred on the ninth of Av itself or very close to it. This year, Tisha B’Av falls this coming Saturday, July 22nd, but because of the Shabbat celebration, it is commemorated the following day, on Sunday.
Tisha B’Av mainly commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples of Jerusalem, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.). Together with the destruction of the Temples, we remember the destruction of the old city of Jerusalem and the loss of sovereignty for the Jewish people in the land of Israel.
Other calamities occurred on this date as well, like the fall of the fortress of Betar during the rebellion of Bar Kochba (133 C.E.), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and from England in 1290. Recently, the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires in 1994 happened on the 10th Av, and this tragedy is also remembered during Tisha B’Av.
Due to the fact that so many catastrophes befell the Jewish people on this date, or very close to it, Tisha B’Av is considered by many rabbis as the national day of mourning of the Jewish people.
How is Tisha B’Av observed? Apart from avoiding eating and drinking, we also avoid doing things that bring us happiness, like washing or bathing, using creams or oils, wearing leather shoes, and having marital relations (these are actually the same rabbinic prohibitions that we follow on Yom Kippur). Of course, we do not participate in parties nor do we listen to music. Torah study, considered a source of joy, is also forbidden during this day. We sit on low stools and read in low light Megilat Eicha (the Scroll of Lamentations) and Kinot, religious poems that describe persecutions and disasters that many Jewish communities experienced through history. There are of course other laws and customs for this sad day.
This year at Temple Beth El we will observe Tisha B’Av this coming Sunday, July 22nd at 9 am. We urge you to come and join us, so that, together, we can commemorate our people’s tragedies.
What can you expect at this service? We will first pray the morning service. It will include short Torah and Haftarah readings. After that, we will have a brief moment of liturgical poetry appropriate for the day. After the service, those who are able will be invited to sit on the floor for the reading of Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. We will offer explanations about the meaning of the day and will be happy to answer questions about it.
We hope you can join us as we remember together the tragic times in our history as a people.