Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tisha B'Av, For Malki

One of the darkest days of the year occurs in the heat of midsummer. Even before the fast of Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av) begins we take up the practices of mourners, ingesting an egg and bread dusted with ash alone in the corner of a room. We are exiles. The aron kodesh is empty; its scrolls have been removed. Candles are lit and passed through the synagogue so that by their light we might sing a dirge. The small flames look like stars in a summer night’s sky. But on this night of lamentation I have a secret, a spark of joy inside. Like the candle illuminating the kinah in front of me, holy lights shine within. They’re the words of Zechariah the prophet, who wrote,The fast day of the fifth month (Tisha b’Av) will become for the house of Yisrael a day of rejoicing and of happiness (Zechariah 8:19).”Chazal interpret these words as a reference to the birth of Mashiach on the 9th of Av.

On the surface this might seem to contradict the wide spread tradition that Yeshua was born during Chag Sukkot on the 15th of Tishri. However, its my opinion that both dates are correct. There is a lesser known second occasion when Mashiach is said to have been born; it was at his immersion. A voice was heard saying,You are my son. Today I have begotten you (Lk. 3:22 codex Bezae).”

That this event occurred on Tisha b’Av is clear from the context of the account given in our besorot. In the third chapter of Matthew, at the end of a passionate and rage filled speech just before the immersion of Mashiach, Yochanan Hamatbil responds vehemently to a group of Sadducees sent to interrogate him saying, “Now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.” This proclamation which was made in reference to the corruption filled second temple is specific in its imagery and helps to place Yeshua’s immersion within the context of Tisha b’Av.

With the words “Now also,” Yochanan is comparing the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash to the first, both of which occurred on the ninth of Av. In Babylon the date of Tisha b’Av was observed as a pagan holiday. Trees were cut into logs to be burned in huge bonfires dedicated to the worship of the sun. When Shlomo Hamelech built the Beit Hamikdash he imported so many cedar trees from the Lebanon, the temple its self was often called “the cedars of Lebanon,” or simply “Lebanon.” In 586 BCE, Babylon chopped down the cedars of the Beit Hamikdash and created an enormous and horrible fire from the temple ruins before driving Judah into exile.

According to our tradition the destructive quality of Tisha b’Av and its relation to exile is a result of our desire to return to Egypt after having been freed from slavery there. Rather than enter into the Promised Land, Yisrael sought to turn back because of fear (Num. 14:34). As punishment for a lack of trust in G-d, Yisrael was cursed with a forty year exile into the wilderness which began on this day. Hashem decreed that Tisha b’Av would be a day of crying and misfortune. “G-d said, ‘”You wept in vain. I will establish this date for you as a time of real weeping for all generations (Ta’anit 29).’”

After his immersion, Mashiach was driven by G-d’s spirit into the wilderness. He remained in the desert for forty days, mimicking Yisrael’s wonderings begun on Tisha b’Av. During these days Mashiach ate nothing and performed corrections for the failings of our nation. As Yisrael erred three times in the wilderness, Mashiach was given three tests. The Satan appeared to Yeshua at the apex of his hunger and said, “If you are the son of G-d, command this stone to turn to bread.” Mashiach remembered the carnality of his people when they spoke against Moshe Rabeinu, saying, You brought us out into this wilderness to kill us all with hunger (Shemot 16:3).” He refused to eat as an act of tikkun. Answering the Satan, he said, “It is written, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from G-d’ (Mt. 4:3-4). Mashiach’s response to the tempter comes from Devarim, Parashah Ekev, one of the readings used during the seven weeks between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah.

After Hashem supplied our need for food in the wilderness we began to complain about water and put G-d to the test. The place where this occurred was named מסה (Massah) and means “test” (Shemot 17:3). Our besorah records that when the Satan attempted to persuade Mashiach to test Hashem he spoke out against the tempter saying, “You shall not put Hashem, your G-d, to the test!

Before the end of this redemptive journey Mashiach performed one more corrective act on behalf of his people. It is written that “the devil led Yeshua up to a very high mountain, and showed him every kingdom of the world in their magnificence (Matt. 5:8).” The Satan told Mashiach that if he would only prostrate himself before the adversary he would be given “all these.” Again the account is clear in its imagery. It was at the foot of a mountain that Yisrael bowed before a golden calf. In his final act of correction, Mashiach commanded the Satan, “Away, Satan! It is written: ‘Hashem your G-d, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve!’

It has been expected from ancient times that Mashiach would be born on Tisha b’Av, many have also held the belief that he would begin his redemptive mission on this day. It was anticipated that Mashiach would transform Tisha b’Av from a day of exile into one of redemption. Yeshua has fulfilled our expectations. His birth through immersion and redemptive forty day trek into the wilderness began on Tisha b’Av, the anniversary of G-d’s having decreed a forty year sentence of wondering upon his nation. It was at his immersion that Yeshua began to take students unto himself. He has been gathering the dispersed of Yisrael ever since. Today we continue to fast on Tisha b’Av knowing that Yisrael remains in partial exile. However, we also conceal a spark of joy, knowing that Mashiach has been born. He has begun to transform exile into redemption.


Rob P said...

Good explanation of Yeshua's tikun for Israel. I didn’t know about Yeshua's immersion taking place on the 9th of Av.

Tim Layne said...

Its only my opinion.

Yoshi said...

Amazing connections made. This really brings out the deepest sparks in our observance of Tisha B'Av. May he return soon in our day!

judeoxian said...

That is very intriguing given John's "axe" pronouncement. Placing on Tisha B'Av gives it a much more prophetic punch to it.

Though this does not prove that these events occurred on specifically on Tisha B'Av (though it remains a good candidate), the thematic links are still powerful nonetheless.

Thanks for the great post.

Tim Layne said...

Malki...May your day be a proleptic expression of our future joy when all Israel will be guests at a wedding. Blessings.

Monique said...

Somehow your link between Yeshua's immersion and the 9th of Av slipped under my radar until Nick brought it up in our study at the shul last night. Very nice analysis ... very thought provoking.

I want to point out that "the desire to return to Egypt" is not the exclusive reason for our wandering, or the various cycles of destruction, exile, and persecution. (It certainly makes sense for the purpose of your analysis here.)

Senseless hatred, murder, lashon hara, the abuse/neglect of widows and orphans ... these reasons are all given. And I think they point to Hashem's real priorities for the Jewish people, which are very tangible and don't take a mystic's touch to interpret.

We are to love one another. It's been our failure to love one another, to pursue peace and justice, and to treat each other as little images of Hashem ... that has brought us so much pain and suffering.

Last night Nick helped us to remember that the whole tapestry of Torah is much more concerned with how we treat each other and how we treat the "other" than it is with the content of our sacrifices, the length of our tzit tzit, or even the passion behind our prayers.

And that's ultimately why we mourn on Tish'a B'Av. Not only because we lost our Temple and have been chased around the world for centuries. We mourn primarily because as a people, we do not pursue justice and peace.

Tim Layne said...

Well said as always, Monique!