We made it through.
Yesterday was Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, a day of deep sorrow in the Jewish calendar. The only 25-hour fast day aside from Yom Kippur, many Jews spend the day in mourning and contemplation. On this day, we commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its Jewish residents, first in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, and then again in 70 CE by the Romans. The biblical book of Lamentations, which describes the events, reveals the deep pain and disruption wrought by the tragedy:
“Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people! She that was great among nations has become like a widow; The princess among states has become a laughingstock. Bitterly she weeps in the night, her cheek wet with tears. There is none to comfort her from among her friends. All her allies have betrayed her; they have become her foes” (Lamentations 1:1-2).
The book later describes the dire straits of Jerusalem’s residents:
“My being melts away over the ruin of my poor people, as babes and sucklings languish In the squares of the city. They keep asking their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they languish like battle-wounded In the squares of the town, as their life runs out In their mothers’ bosoms….See, O Adonai, and behold, to whom You have done this! Alas, women eat their own fruit, their new-born babes!” (Lamentations 2:11-12, 20).
Amidst this anguish, the narrator tries to understand why God would be so cruel. But he finds no answers.
We, too, know very intimately what it is like to live through societal tragedy. We have now witnessed the deaths of over 150,000 Americans to COVID-19. Our lives and families have been disrupted and uprooted, and we are uncertain as to when we will be able to reunite. Businesses have shuttered; people have lost their incomes and their sense of stability. The deep racial inequities in our society have been laid bare.
We, too, have a lament to cry. How did we get here? How has a good God allowed this devastation to happen? How have we?
But just when it feels like there’s no hope, when Jerusalem’s ancient residents can never imagine life returning to the city, when we in 2020 can’t fathom how long it will take for the pandemic to end, we arrive at this Shabbat, called Shabbat Nachamu, or the “Shabbat of Comfort.”
“Comfort, oh comfort My people
Says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
And declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is forgiven;
For she has received at the hand of Adonai
Double for all her sins”
– Isaiah 40:1-2.
Immediately following Tisha B’Av, we read these words of consolation from the prophet Isaiah. At the moment of our deepest pain — pain that feels like it will last a lifetime — we receive the reminder that this time of destruction and darkness we face is just a long moment. It will pass.
In these seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah, as we prepare for the holiest moments of the year, we read a weekly selection from the Prophets (also called a haftarah) filled with words of comfort, hope, and consolation. Yes, we have witnessed devastation. Yes, we have mourned the loss of life. Yes, there is much work to be done to move forward. But just as these prophets reminded the ancient Jews that, impossible as it seemed, joy and vitality would one day return to Jerusalem, they remind us that one day, this pandemic will be behind us. And when it finally passes, we will reunite with our loved ones and together rebuild a world full of light.
Wishing you a Shabbat filled with comfort and hope.