Torah Tidbits


A Mid-Summer’s Fast Day
Shabbat Parashat Devarim
Shabbat Chazon
July 13, 2013 – 6 Av 5773

A Mid-Summer’s Fast Day

Getting “in shape” for summer is an all too familiar theme in our society. It reflects a huge money-making business as well. So many diets are offered as summer approaches. So many ideas are floated in the media and online about getting “in shape.” I am sure we have all seen the ads suggesting our doing a three day juice fast or “intermittent fasting” (e.g. not eating from 6 pm till morning…). All of these ideas focus on improving our physical shape and wellness, with an eye toward the very positive goal of making us happier and more relaxed.

Jewish tradition has another goal in mind in offering us the opportunity to fast for one day in mid-summer. This one day is the Ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. This year, the Ninth of Av, or Tisha B’Av, begins on Monday evening, July 15th. The full day fast begins at dark and ends at dark on the following day.

Tisha B’Av focuses our attention on the darkest days of Jewish history. Tradition associates the destruction of both the first and the second Temples in Jerusalem with this date in the Hebrew Calendar. The fall of Betar, symbolizing the end of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, is also said to have occurred on the Ninth of Av and many other catastrophes including, for example, the Expulsion from Spain in 1492 were said to have occurred on this date.

The Ninth of Av is a time for Jewish people to remember the precariousness of our existence on this earth, in the Land of Israel and elsewhere. It is a time to mourn the loss of innocent lives and the loss of sovereignty. It is a time to acknowledge our powerlessness, up to this point in time, to eliminate the forces of evil that threaten people’s safety and deny people’s dignity.

It is also a time to remember God’s promise, that one day the world will be redeemed. One day, despite the horrors of the world, there will be a world enveloped in true and lasting peace.

And so, on this one day, in mid-summer, we fast in order to remind ourselves that there is work to be done to improve our world.

And, as the fast begins, we gather for the chanting of the Eichah, the Scroll of Lamentations, which describes in vivid detail the devastation that occurred in Jerusalem in ancient times – a description of horrors that calls to mind descriptions of the Holocaust. We remove our leather shoes, as do mourners in the house of shiva. We sit, like mourners, on the ground or on low seats or benches, in a dimmed atmosphere, with candles, and chant Eichah.

Interestingly, the chanting of the scroll of Eichah ends with the repetition of the verse: Hashiveynu Adonai eylecha v’nashuva; chadesh yameynu k’kedem [Take us back Adonai to You and we will come back; renew our days as of old].”

And with this chanting, we connect our sadness to a spiritual process of re-envisioning our lives as part of the redemptive process of our world. It is a natural segue from a day of fasting and mourning into the beginning of our preparation for the Season of Repentance which will culminate in our upcoming High Holidays.

Jewish tradition teaches us that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av; that if we get “in shape” spiritually and work together to make our world a better place, even the worst of days will one day become a day of rejoicing.

I hope you will join me at RST for the chanting of Megillat Eichah on Monday evening, July 15th, at 9 pm and may all of our efforts to get “into shape” physically and spiritually bring us great happiness and reward.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror