This Shabbat, we begin reading of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the last of the Five Books of Moses. The Jewish calendar is organized so that this week’s reading consistently falls on the Shabbos preceding the fast of Tisha B'Av (9th Av), the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple. The reading of the book of Devarim continues throughout the month of Elul and right up until the High Holidays.
The book of Devarim is Moshe’s final message to the Jewish people, told to them in the thirty-seven days before his passing. And as we read each week a little more of his final words, we can actually see how the themes are related to the season that we are in.
On the Shabbos before the ninth of Av, we read his opening words, rebuking the Jewish people for all the trouble they caused throughout the forty years, especially the sin of the spies which occurred on, none other than, the ninth of Av. But as we get deeper into the book of Devarim, Moshe’s words get softer and focus more and more on the themes of loving and cleaving to Hashem and returning to him, the perfect message as we approach High Holidays.
But there are a few words that Moshe says early on in this week Torah portion that, more than any of his other words, really awaken us transport us in to the Tisha B’av frame of mind. As he is expressing how his frustration for the Jewish people’s behavior in the desert, specifically their “contentiousness, burdens and quarrels”, Moshe asks rhetorically Eichah Esah Levadi, how can I manage this all alone.
These words of frustration are almost identical to the opening words of the Book of Eichah, which is customarily read on the night of Tisha B’Av, when the prophet Yirmiyahu laments the destruction of the Temple and opens with the exclamation “Eichah Yashva Badad”, how is it that we now find ourselves all alone.
This cry of “how can I manage through this loneliness” that we hear from Moshe and then echoed by Yirmiyahu, captures the essence of what the day of Tisha B’Av is about.
Many people feel disconnected from the day of Tisha B’Av. How can we connect to the destruction of the Temple when we have no idea what it was like to have a Temple? But, in fact, whether we realize it or not, we are all well aware of what the loss of the Temple feels like. It is the feeling of “how can I manage with this loneliness”, the loneliness that we all contend with at some point or another, or maybe all the time.
It is the lonely feeling we have when we are going through a challenging time in our life and can’t understand what we did to deserve it. It is the feeling of knowing that we have a mission to accomplish, yet we feel like we took a wrong turn at some point and can’t seem to find our way back. It is the feeling you get when you have heard all the advice, and all the suggestions, and all the philosophy and all the opinions, and you still feel stuck.
That loneliness is the loss of the Temple. That loneliness is Tisha B’Av.
But just as the tears of Tisha B’av will soon turn into the love of Elul and the closeness of the High Holidays, we too must carry on strong, no matter how lonely we feel, and remember that our dark days will also soon turn to days of love. As long as we hold on strong, just a little bit longer.