lamentations

Tisha B’Av, Lamentations, and Hope

How did Judaism manage to survive the destruction of its central sanctuary? According to the Book of Deuteronomy, which we always begin to read on the Shabbat before Tishah B’Av, it was to be the only link between heaven and earth. All sacrifices were to be offered there and no place else. The exclusive cult restricted to a single Temple seemed to reinforce the fragile belief in a single, omnipotent God…

…The destruction of his Temple in 586 B.C.E. could have ruptured the ties between God and Israel…

…I should like to suggest that the answer to this historical conundrum lies in the etymology of a single Hebrew word.

-Ismar Schorsch
“Transformation of Devir from Shrine to Book,” pg 583, August 1, 1998
Commentary on Torah Portion Devarim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Schorsch goes on to explain that the Hebrew word for the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and later the Temple is “devir”. He then traced a path from “devir” (Shrine) to “davar” (word), and across the ages to third century C.E. Babylonia and the founding of the rabbinic academy in Sura where the Persians used the proper noun “devir” for “book” (safra). For Judaism then, as Schorsch sees it, the survival mechanism employed once the Temple had been leveled by the Romans in 70 C.E. and the Jewish people were forcibly dispersed, was the investment in Talmud and Mishnah as the embodiment of the Holiness of the Temple; the conversion of the direct link between Jews and God from Shrine to Book.

This idea was also explored by the late Dr. Alan F. Segal in his book Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World. Dr. Segal suggested that with the destruction of the Temple and the elimination of a Judaism centered around the sacrifices and the Aaronic priesthood, two new religions emerged: Gentile Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

In a way, it’s not as farfetched an idea as it might seem but fails to take into account God’s planning for the continuation of His people Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by His Name. While Judaism and Christianity both have “morphed” considerably over the past nearly two-thousand years and have traced divergent trajectories across history, we must remember that our course through space and time are always in the control of God and a single destination awaits us both: Messiah and the Kingdom.

As we rapidly approach the fast of Tisha B’Av, sorrow piles upon sorrow at the severe losses suffered by the Jewish people and the nation of Israel which, even now, is in a state of war and viciously maligned by the worldwide news media, multiple world leaders and celebrities, and people in general simply for defending themselves against the thousands of missiles and other attacks the terrorist group Hamas has launched against them.

And how do these events color Tisha B’Av this year? Like any other year, as Schorsch says elsewhere in his commentary:

No other religion is quite so self-critical. The Bible goes out of its way to record the flaws and errors of our people’s loftiest leaders. (pg 589)

As most of us should be doing whenever something goes wrong in our lives, the first place Israel looks for a cause when tragedy strikes is in the mirror and their relationship with God.

If a person sees that suffering befalls him, let him examine his deeds.

-Berachos 5a

Yes, one day the Messiah will rebuild the Temple, but it’s been so long and who knows when he will suddenly return? Yet in spite of all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people across the long centuries, God has always preserved them in many and varied ways, including, I believe, through what we refer to as Rabbinic Judaism and a devotion to studying Torah and Mishnah.

Most Christians believe that any legitimate connection between the Jewish people and God crumbled with the Temple and that their only hope is conversion to Christianity and worship of Jesus Christ. For most people in the Church, Rabbinic Judaism in all its expressions is a dry and vain effort, bereft of any presence of God; an invention of men who “missed the boat” of Messiah, so to speak, and now are continually bailing water out of a slowly sinking ship.

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007But let us suppose, on the eve of one of the most grief-stricken observances on the Jewish religious calendar, that God didn’t abandon His people Israel after the advent of Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Let us suppose that God chose to go into exile with His people, even as He maintained His presence among the devout ones of the Gentile disciples of Messiah. Is that so unreasonable an assumption? Does God have to abandon Sinai in order to occupy Calvary?

Hence when our sages read the story of Jacob and Esau as the tale of Israel and Rome in the time of the Christian emperors, as they did, they did not conceive that theirs was a reading distinct from the author’s original intention. And how could such a conception have taken root, when, after all, they knew that Torah, oral and written, came from God to Moses, or was the work of the Holy Spirit, or otherwise transcended the particularities of time, space, and circumstance?

-Jacob Neusner
from the Series Forward of (pg xii)
Israel After Calamity: The Book of Lamentations

Professor Neusner is attempting to explain to an audience with little knowledge of Mishnah how it is possible and even reasonable for the Sages to create interpretations of books of scripture that (apparently) couldn’t have been the author’s original intent, and yet have those interpretations be correct for the generation in which they were made (and later).

That requires believing that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit both encodes the Bible with messages that continually unfold with the passage of human history and believing that God really did infuse the Jewish sages with the authority, wisdom, and Spirit to create valid interpretations of the Bible after formal canonization was considered closed.

That’s a lot for most Christians to take in, since our general conceptual platform is founded on Greek thought and philosophy which is sort of a “connect the dots” way of thinking coupled with being “binary.” That is, things are either this way or that, left or right, up or down, and we continually move forward in time, leaving the past permanently preserved in amber, forever unchangeable, including by interpretation, as we progress step by step toward the return of Jesus. There is no room in our thinking for a God who can take both forks in a road simultaneously (with apologies to Yogi Berra).

If we accept that God is infinite, that God is Spirit, and believe all of the other supernatural and metaphysical things we’re supposed to believe, then it behooves us not to put God in a box (Schrödinger’s or any other kind), and make Him obey the rules we’ve created for the Bible and ourselves. If God is transcendent, then so is His Word and, for that matter, so is His relationship with His people Israel. God’s relationship with Israel survived the destruction of Solomon’s Temple. It can survive the destruction of Herod’s as well, plus such and thus many thousands of years hence.

Neusner’s book takes us through an analysis of Lamentations Rabbah, and in Parashah II Lamentations 2:3 (pp 95-6), we read:

But when the Israelites repent, the Holy One, blessed be he, will put the horns back in place: “All the horns of the wicked I will also cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up” (Ps. 75:11).

The horns which the Righteous One of the world had cut off [will be restored].

When will he restore them to their place?

When the Holy One, blessed be he, exalts the horn of his messiah: “And he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” (1 Sam. 2:10).

grafted olivesEven in sorrow and mourning, Israel always has hope in the Promises of God for return and restoration, the promises of King Messiah and the New Covenant age.

This is purely poetic interpretation on my part, but when I read of the wicked horns being cut off and the righteous horns being restored by Messiah the Righteous One, I couldn’t help but think of this:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

As it says in Tsvi Sadan’s book The Concealed Light (pg 212):

To call Messiah Horn (keren) is supported by “There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for My anointed” (Psalm 132:17 ESV).

But as it also says in Sadan’s book (pg 156):

Using the name Branch (netzer) for Messiah comes from a clear messianic prophecy that says: “There shall come forth a Rod (choter) from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (netzer) shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1 ESV).

Played back over Lamentations Rabbah and Neusner’s commentary, we can see some obvious parallels to Yeshua (Jesus), but as I said, the connections are poetic and shouldn’t be taken for more than that. Still, we are pointed back to a hope for the Jewish people and the rest of the world, that out of the ashes of the Temple will rise a King, and lifted from the lakes and oceans of Jewish tears shed over hundreds and thousands of years is lifted up the Moshiach.

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

But Israel has a part to play:

Israel is responsible for its own condition but also can so act to atone for what it has done and so regain God’s favor. A covenant governs Israel’s relationship to God, and therefore the condition of the holy people. When the covenant is broken, the result is God’s punishment; but then, when Israel atones, the covenant makes clear, Israel will repair its disastrous condition.

-Neusner, pg 104

But while the focus of disaster, repentance, and atonement is upon Israel, this also has applications on individual lives:

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter would utilize every opportunity to gain mussar insights and to motivate himself to further self-improvement. There were many occurrences when most people would think nothing of them, but Rav Yisroel would gain some lesson for growth. Rav Yisroel once was in the home of a shoemaker late at night and observed how he was doing his work by the light of the candle that was almost going out. “Why are you still working?” Rav Yisroel asked him. “It is very late and soon the candle will be extinguished.”

The shoemaker replied, “As long as the candle is still burning it is still possible to accomplish and to mend.”

Rabbi Salanter was very moved by this, and said, “If for our physical needs as long as the candle is burning one keeps mending, all the more so for our souls, as long as the light of the soul is still going we must make every effort to accomplish and mend.”

After this he would frequently repeat to himself, “As long as the candle is lit, accomplish and mend.” (Tnuas Hamussar, vol.1, p.315-6)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Utilize the hints of others for self-improvement,” pg 379
Commentary on Torah Portion Devarim
Growth Through Torah

From Tsvi Sadan’s book (pg 10) we learn:

Light (or) to describe Messiah comes from the well-known verse, “And God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis 1:4). Puzzled by this good light that was created before the sun and moon, the sages were drawn to another unique light, which David talks about when he says, “In Your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

This light within a light, says one midrash, is the light created on the first day, which David recognizes as King Messiah.

Yeshua also made this plain about himself:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

John 8:12 (NASB)

light-ohrThis year, Tisha B’Av begins the evening of Monday, August 4th and ends some forty minutes after sundown the following day. We enter our own darkness when we face Jewish grief, for although the sin of baseless hatred caused the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, those acts of destruction were brought about by Gentiles. For the past twenty centuries, the Goyim, including the Christian Church, has been piling sorrow upon sorrow on the Jewish people and are at it to this very day.

The Jewish people fast, pray, and repent on Tisha B’Av but as the instruments of their suffering, we should fast, repent, and pray as well, entering our own darkness so we can recognize, through faith, the light of our hope.

The redemption of Israel and, through it, all the world, depends on how well man perceives and acts upon that faith.

-Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz

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4 thoughts on “Tisha B’Av, Lamentations, and Hope”

  1. Just a reminder, the fast of Tisha B’Av begins tomorrow evening at sundown but there’s a lot you need to know if you want to participate. There’s a good online resource at Aish.com.

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