Though the month of Av carries a title - menahem - meaning comfort and consolation, it nevertheless remains the saddest and most disturbing month of the Jewish calendar.
By BEREL WEIN
Though the month of Av carries a title - menahem - meaning comfort and consolation, it nevertheless remains the saddest and most disturbing month of the Jewish calendar. Comfort is a great and necessary word, but as a true concept and reality, it is very difficult to obtain. This is particularly true for individuals reeling from the loss of a beloved one, but it is also generally true for the national entity of the Jewish people.
There have as yet been no comfort and no closure regarding the terrible national tragedy of the Holocaust, even though more than six decades have passed since the event. This should come as no surprise to Jews, for to a great extent the Jewish people have yet to be comforted for the destruction of our Temple and our exile, events which are almost two millennia old. No person or institution in Jewish life is indispensable, but neither are they replaceable. It is the void that is left because of this irreplaceability that prevents true comfort from taking hold. Therefore, the Jewish people have remained restless and many times even disoriented over the long exile that we have endured. The sadness of the first 10 days of Av permeates and resonates within us precisely because the sense of closure and comfort has eluded us.
The Talmud states that there is a heavenly decree that engenders forgetfulness of the departed by those still living. However, if the object of grief, despair and loss is not truly dead but is only absent - such as was the case regarding Jacob's grief over the loss of Joseph - then this sense of closure and comfort remains absent as well. That is why the Torah records for us the inability of Jacob to accept comfort and solace from his family and friends. Joseph was not dead; the heavenly decree of forgetfulness which allows comfort was inoperative in his case. So comfort could not come to Jacob.
I believe that in an ironic and odd way, the fact that the Jewish people still suffer from the anguish of the Holocaust is because of the intense efforts made by the Jewish community to prevent forgetfulness of the Holocaust from settling in. It is the Holocaust-deniers who wish to lull us into a false sense of comfort, to proclaim that it is over and therefore bygones should remain bygones. The Bible records for us that our mother Rachel refuses to be comforted over the exile of her children because she is convinced that they are not permanently lost or exiled but will return. There is a positive side, therefore, to not being comforted. It allows for a connection to an unknown future that will not only provide comfort but even replacement of what and who was lost.
The sadness and tension of the first part of the month of Av are still with us centuries after the event of the destruction of the Temple simply because deep within the heart and psyche of the Jewish people, the Temple is not gone, it is only missing.
The entire enterprise of the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel in their millions over the past two centuries and the establishment of the Jewish state in our ancient homeland is testimony to the fact that to the Jews, the Land of Israel and the Temple were not dead issues. Those Jewish communities and individuals who "proclaimed that Berlin is our Jerusalem" and therefore sought permanent comfort in being "good" Germans, Russians, Poles, etc. did not fare well in God's world. False comfort is far more damaging than no comfort at all. It remained for those Jews who did not forget that they were from Zion and Jerusalem to arise and help the Jewish people survive the worst and bloodiest century in its long history.
The prophet warns us against "being comfortable in Zion." Living in the Land of Israel is not a comfortable experience though it is a holy, challenging and inspiring one. For living in the Land of Israel makes us aware of what we have achieved against all odds and at the same time allows us to appreciate what is still missing. The awareness of what is missing is what prevents us from being "comfortable in Zion."
Thus the month of Av symbolizes in it the angst and challenge of living a Jewish life, of being grateful for what we have and yet maintaining a sense of loss for what we are still missing. May this month yet bring us the feeling of menahem - of a better time and the eventual comfort promised to us by God and His prophets.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator (rabbiwein.com).
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