At first glance, the fast days of Tisha Be'av and Yom Kippur would appear to be as different as, well, black and white. Though these are the only night-and-day fasts in the Jewish calendar, they have markedly different moods.
Yom Kippur is known as the White Fast. White is the operative color of the day, and it is reflected not only in the clothes worn by the hazan and many of the congregants, but also by the sentiment which permeates the spirit of the holiday.
"Though your sins be red as scarlet," says the prophet, "they can be made white as snow."
Coming at the very beginning of the year, Yom Kippur offers an opportunity to cleanse the soul, remove the guilt of past transgressions, and renew a pristine relationship with God. The "feel" of Yom Kippur is decidedly upbeat; indeed, the Talmud calls it "one of the happiest days of the year"!
TISHA BE'AV, on the other hand, is the Black Fast. It is a day of abject gloom and grief, marking the many calamities that have befallen us on this date, including the destruction of both Temples and the fall of Betar, which effectively ended the last vestige of Jewish independence in the Second Commonwealth.
The Ninth of Av is, in essence, a day of national mourning for the Jewish people.
Rabbi J.B. Soloveichik likens the three-tiered structure of Jewish mourning to the various phases of the Three Weeks, which increase in intensity until we arrive at the Ninth of Av.
The year of mourning approximates the start of the period on 17 Tamuz, when we avoid all occasions of festivity. The 30 days of shloshim are akin to the Nine Days, when we do not take haircuts or launder clothes. Tisha Be'av itself mimics the shiva, when we sit sullenly upon the floor, without shoes, awash in tears, not even greeting one another.
THE WAR we are now waging is being framed by these same Three Weeks, and it has created its own kind of national trauma and tragedy, giving us, sadly, a glimpse of what it must have been like in those desperate days of destruction 2,000 years ago.
Tens of thousands of people driven from their homes. The fear of sudden terror imposed upon us by a brutal enemy, driven by hate and dedicated to our destruction. The horrendous tales of pain and death which ripple through the nation, gripping our collective hearts like a vise.
The suffering endured during these three weeks by Israel - wantonly attacked, without provocation - is almost beyond words; the stories of the brave who have fallen pierce our souls. Brave heroes like Major Ro'i Klein.
He was called upon last week to tell one of his soldiers, Shimon Hillman, that his brother Benjy had been killed in battle. Ro'i drove Shimon to the funeral in Ra'anana, stopped in to see his own parents for less than an hour, and then immediately returned to the front.
Five days later, he, too, was killed in a gun battle with Hizbullah, throwing himself on a grenade to save the lives of several members of his unit.
YET HIDING just beneath all this suffering and darkness there is a mountain of light - the light that comes from knowing we are a nation of valor, with the ability to withstand the worst our enemy can throw at us and still not buckle. It's the light that emanates from achieving that elusive unity which binds each of us together into a single unit.
So many people and organizations have come forward to lend support to our people in the North and to our fighting forces, offering their homes and their resources to perfect strangers.
While in the States last week, my wife Susie, who directs the Ochel Ari food project for IDF soldiers, was visited by a woman who calmly handed her an envelope with several thousand dollars in it. "This is from a few of our friends," she said. "Please buy the soldiers something special with it." It's the light that comes from knowing that if we are victorious in our struggle we will strike a deadly blow against terrorism and secure our safety and security for a long time to come.
Like the dawn that follows the dark of night, Tisha Be'av, too, carries the promise of light and redemption. That is why the rabbis call it mo'ed, festival, hinting at its potential for celebration.
And that is why our tradition holds that the Messiah - who will come from the least likely source, appearing just when all seems hopeless - will be born on none other than the Ninth of Av.
If we can gather our courage in these difficult days and hold the course, and if God sends His blessing to our country, we will rise from the floor of despair, our tears will turn to cheers, and Tisha Be'av - like its counterpart Yom Kippur - will change its color, becoming one of the happiest days of the year.
The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana. firstname.lastname@example.org