Next Thursday, August 3 – the ninth day of the lunar month of Av by the traditional calendar – marks the 2,592nd anniversary of the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in the year 586 before the current era. By eerie coincidence, or so tradition teaches, the date also marks the anniversaries of the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome in the year 70, of the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492 and of a startling list of other calamities that have befallen Jews over the centuries.
It is a day of mourning, marked by fasting and by biblical readings of Lamentations and the gloomy prophesies of Jeremiah. It’s also a time for reflecting on the fragility of life and the myriad ways in which our own fallibility and shortsightedness so frequently bring us to grief. “From the north shall disaster break loose,” Jeremiah wrote. “For all their wickedness, they have forsaken Me.”
The observance will surely have a particular edge in many communities this year. Disaster has indeed broken loose from the north of Israel, and events have a calamitous feel to them. There’s talk around dinner tables and on the Internet of World War III being upon us. The timing of the crisis, during the weeks of mourning that lead up to the Ninth of Av, only adds to the feeling that this is, in some way that we don’t fully understand, the big one.
It’s worth remembering, then, that the Ninth of Av is followed each year by weeks of peaceful summer, leading up to the healing time of renewal at the New Year in September. The synagogues that chant of Jerusalem in desolation this coming Thursday will ring the following Saturday with the words of Isaiah: Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, that her term of service is over.