FROM SORROW TO JOY
THE MONTH OF MENACHEM AV
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
The month of Menachem Av contains the epitome of the dichotomy of life: extreme highs and lows. The name of the month, Menachem Av, means the consoling father and thus we have to look for this aspect of comfort and consolation as key factors in the month. The 9th of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, when horrendous calamities befell the Jewish nation, contains a litany of destructive events that took place on that day in our history in the very month of our supposed comfort. Then a mere 6 days later, we celebrate one of the most joyous days in the Jewish calendar…the 15th of Av. What’s going on?
The origins of the destructive events that transpired on Tisha B’Av began when the Jewish people accepted the negative report of the spies. Maharal (Netzach Yisrael ch.8) explains the following: when the Jews were redeemed from Egypt, G-d was actually submitting them to a new process of creation, whereby a new national entity called “Israel” would be fashioned–a nation whose collective soul would be inextricably bound-up with the teachings of the Torah and with the Land of the Torah–Eretz Yisrael. When the Jewish people accepted the negative reports of the spies, they dramatically transformed their essential nature and ripped the Land of Israel from the core of their being. They didn’t merely accept the spies’ report intellectually. By shedding real tears, they expressed the depth of their soul’s antipathy for Eretz Yisrael, thereby severing their soul-bond with the Holy Land. The Maharal concludes by saying that in order to forge a new soul-bond with the holy soil, the same tears that once dissolved our link to the Land of Israel, must now be shed in love and yearning for our homeland so that our souls can truly merge with the land.
Rabbi Nachman Kahana of the Old City Jerusalem, who has lived here for 50 years (and published over 40 books of Talmudic discourse) writes in his book,” With All Your Might/ Parsha Va’etchanan” that the academically-accepted definition of nationhood constitutes: a defined geographical area, common language, designated national goals, shared responsibility, mutual interdependence and perhaps more. He goes on to say that Jewish nationhood includes all of the above, with two additional factors that do not and cannot exist within any other national group. 1) We did not achieve nationhood through the accepted, evolutionary stages of family, tribe and nation. We were coalesced, fused, bonded, sealed, integrated, and synthesized, at one precise moment by our Creator, Blessed Be He, to serve as His personal representative in this world. 2) The Jewish nation as a whole is collectively responsible for the spiritual compliance of every individual within the nation. This was the major implication of the ceremony that was held in Eretz Yisrael, by the mountains of Gerizim and Eyval near Shechem ( Rashi Devarim 29;28) which transformed the individual intimate relationship with HaShem into a new relationship that merged every single Jew into ONE EXCLUSIVE, DISTINCT, UNIQUE AND UNRIVALED NATION. It is taught that a person out of touch with his inner soul hardly appreciates the spiritual losses of not taking up residence in the Holy Land.
Rav Kahana asks us to compare how the Jews outside the Land, rank in these aspects that define Jewish nationhood: 1) a defined geographical area: This area was established by G-d for us in Eretz Yisrael. A Jew who is not living in Eretz Yisrael surrenders a major facet in his ties to Eretz Yisrael and Torah. 2) A common language: Our language is Ivrit and the vast majority of orthodox Jews outside the land can barely hold a conversation in Hebrew. 3) Designated national goals: The national goals in foreign lands tend towards the same goals of the gentiles in those lands. Jews very often go further than their gentile neighbors to prove their allegiance to those lands. 4) Shared responsibility: If one does not live in the Jewish homeland, he cannot truly share in the responsibilities inherent in life nor in its future goals. 5) Mutual interdependence: It is comforting to have AIPAC and other friends in high places but as we witnessed over the past 6+ weeks, when push comes to shove, it is the families in Israel who truly fight the ground battles to the point of even sacrificing their sons and daughters for the Jewish nation.
I personally believe that it is the concept of nationhood that gives the deepest comfort inherent in the name of this month. What a powerful consolation to have been given a land, language, national goals, shared responsibilities and mutual interdependence. When the Jews in the desert denied their birthright, they broke a soul-bond as the Maharal states. Thus making Aliyah reconnects all aspects of that bond as we understand from Rabbi Kahana’s list. Aliyah then truly allows the core aspects of nationhood to coalesce and helps us to manifest our latent potential and true power.
The month of Av also brings us Tu B’Av—the 15th of the month of Av—which was the time of an ancient festival that originally marked the end of the wood-chopping season in the Land of Israel. The work stoppage, so to speak, gave the young men time to search for wives. The maidens of Jerusalem (according to the Talmud) dressed themselves in white on the 15th of Av and went to the vineyards, singing and dancing, and the young men followed after them. The result? This day became a festival of matrimony thereby creating new generations ready to sustain Jewish life. Once again, we come to understand from this, the joy of the nation being united in their land, marrying and insuring the continuation of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not just a religion. We are G-ds chosen people with a divinely chosen homeland and a divinely chosen mission. When we come together, as we have done recently, we not only comfort each other, we bring comfort to G-d and to our own souls.
I bless you to reflect deeply on the aspect of how G-d comforts us in so many ways and then reflect on how you comfort G-d. His own house has never been rebuilt, but he gave us this precious festival on the 15th to remind us of the significance of building up the generations of Jews and sustaining the life of the Jewish nation in our Divine inheritance.
With Love, Ariella Bracha