The one thing I absolutely appreciate about the Jewish people is how they are so steeped in traditions, rituals, and rites. This is seen regardless of whether or not you’re talking about religious Jews, secular Jews, or cultural Jews. There are so many customs and holy days found throughout the Jewish experience. Some of these customs and traditions date back to the Old Testament times, especially aspects of the Law found throughout Exodus to Deuteronomy and beyond. But there is one particular holy day that one can make a case against, as to why Israel has yet to enjoy full restoration with God in this present age.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to remind you that Israel had a history of backsliding and then repenting under the judgment of God as He allowed enemies to hold them captive. But we saw in Joel how God would promise to restore the nation of Israel above and beyond what they enjoyed. We know that in the Final Days, God will fully restore Israel for the final time. Remember I said that Israel, since the time of the Old Testament has yet to be fully restored like God promised in Joel, and as He had done several times before in the Old Testament. I said there was a reason for that. Israel, as a whole, feels the way so many backslidden Christians feel…that they don’t deserve to be fully restored…and I can prove that.
There is, I believe, one day in the Jewish calendar that is holding Israel back as a nation from enjoying God’s restorative powers and keeping them from repenting the way Joel instructed them to. This date is known as Tisha B’Av. In English it’s translated the ninth of Av. Av is a summertime month in the Jewish calendar that corresponds with July and August in our Gregorian calendars. This past year, Tisha B’Av fell on July 28-29, 2012. In 2013 it will fall on July 15-16. It’s amazing, as you study the history of Israel from Biblical times on up to the modern times, how many significant negative events happened on the eve of Tisha B’Av, or on the day exactly, or the day after.
Tisha B’Av is known amongst the Jewish people as the “saddest day in the Jewish history.” The primary foci of this holy day are five specific things. 1) The destruction of the first temple at the hands of the Babylonians when Judeans were exiled soon after, 2) The destruction of the second temple by the Romans leading to exile of Jews from the Holy Land in 70AD, 3) the day the twelve scouts came back from Canaan and ten of them gave a false report (Numbers 13-14), 4) the siege of Jerusalem in 132AD, and 5) Bar Khoba’s failed revolt against the Roman Empire when 100,000 Jews were killed in 133AD and the Romans plowed the Temple site.
All of these events happened on or around the Ninth of Av. Thus, it has led Judaism to adopt the ninth of Av as a day of mourning…more on that in a moment. But first, interestingly enough, calamities, as they are referred to by the Jews, continued throughout history on the Ninth of Av. In 1095, Pope Urban rose up on the Ninth of Av and destroyed Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland killing 10,000 Jews in one month. In 1290, Jews were expelled from England and in 1492, Jews were expelled from Spain, both on the Ninth of Av. On the Ninth of Av, World War One broke out. On the eve of the Ninth of Av, 1942, Jews began being deported to Treblinka, which was a Nazi concentration camp, thus beginning the Holocaust. On the Tenth of Av, 1994, eighty-six Jews were killed in a bombing at a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Most recently, the Tenth of Av, 2005 saw the withdrawal of Jews who had settled in the Gaza strip.
The primary way the Jews observe Tisha B’Av is to hold a fast. This fast begins at sunset on the Eighth of Av and ends on nightfall the Ninth of Av. There is to be no washing or bathing. There is to be no application of creams, oils, or other scented items. Jews cannot wear leather shoes during this fast. Oh, and no marital relations during the fast. Not only that, but there is such an emphasis on not doing anything enjoyable during this time, that study of the Torah is also forbidden. The only thing allowed to be read and studied are the Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah, and portions of the Jewish Talmud which contains laws regarding mourning.
Beside the emphasis on mourning and being void of all pleasure and enjoyment on the Ninth of Av, the practicing Jews will sit on low stools, or even sit on the floor, as a sign of lowliness, humility perhaps, and because it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient. Even when they go to bed on the eve, when the fast begins, some will sleep on the floor, or without a pillow, all this just to be mournful and maybe, to some extent, to be self-abasing. Jews on the Ninth of Av won’t even greet each other. In the early days of the Jewish people, around 200AD, an increased focus on sadness associated with the Ninth of Av was reflected in the growing severity of the rituals for that feast. But the severity increased during the 1400-1700AD period, which many believe to be the darkest time for the Jewish people. Even today, entertainment venues, movie theaters, restaurants, and any other place people may enjoy themselves are closed on the Ninth of Av…by law…subject to fines.
Today, among the Conservative Jewish sects, there is a downplaying of the fast as not having relevance to today’s young Jew who has ceased to pray for the restoration of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem. The Reformed Jews never regarded the temples as having a central religious role in the life of the Jewish people. Some orthodox and practicing Jews encourage even secular Jews to find some meaning in the traditional observance of the Tisha B’Av. As of 2010, only 22% of Jews fast, but a larger percentage (52%) will abstain from going to the movies and enjoying time with friends on the observance of the Ninth of Av.
I know that was a lengthy setup allowing me to say this about that. The Ninth of Av is a feast day that keeps Israel stuck in the past, as you’ll understand more clearly in a moment. Unlike Israel in the Old Testament, that repented and was restored and rescued from bondage, today’s Jews have seen these calamities, from the Temple destruction on up to present day, as sorrowful things. God is still making life hard for the unbelieving Jews He Himself created and set apart to be His people. But the very religious sect of Judaism is focused on bemoaning the calamities that have befallen the Hebrew people over the centuries instead of seeking repentance as a nation and being restored. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (Second Chronicles 7:14).
Yes, there’s an element of sorrow in seeking forgiveness and exercising true repentance, but you, as a backslidden Christian have to recognize that the calamities in your life that have led you to experience desolation, may be the chastisement of God, and that He uses that chastisement to make life so uncomfortable for you that you can’t help but run back to him like the Prodigal did to his father. If you stay focused on all the “bad things” happening to you, you’ll miss the forest for the trees. You won’t recognize the big picture, and that is that God is sending you calamities to draw you back to Him. You can fight it, as the Jewish people have for centuries, but in the end you won’t be the better for it. You’ll just have a life void of pleasurable things…and void of restoration.
The Jewish people, with the observance of Tisha B’Av are a people content to look backward and not motivated to look forward. Israel lost the prominence it once had among the nations. Backslidden Christians also lose their level of stature they once had, and very few seek to regain it. They’re too focused on what they’ve done rather than what God can do with them once they repent.
Even after Israel was granted status as a nation in 1948, and even after Jews are able to once again assemble and pray at the Western wall (the last remaining remnant of Herod’s Temple), they are still looking backwards, beyond the things God has done for their people. Perhaps God has begun to restore you, but not fully, and you may have the tendency to look past where God has already brought you, and stagnate yourself there. There are many in the religious realm of Judaism who harbor the sentiment that “only the full rebuilding of the Temple will engender enough reason to cease observing the day as one of mourning” (Yehuda Ben Meir, 2005). Folks, that’s said even after the establishment of Israel as a nation and the miraculous victory of the Six Day War. Israel is blind to the Hand of God, but you don’t have to be blind to the workings of God in your life. Don’t stagnate yourself wanting things God’s not ready to restore in your life.
In an article written by Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner about the need for Jews to change their focus when it comes to Tisha B’Av, he writes:
“We can trace back our shared challenges to the time of being enslaved in Egypt, to wandering in the desert, to persecution by the Romans, expulsions by the Spaniards, pogroms by the Cossacks, being driven to the death chambers in Europe-and now we are here-Israel. The hope for tomorrow is today. We are in Jerusalem, now. Not next year, not last year. Today.
“So, why then do we still have a holiday of Tisha B’Av today? Why in the year 2010, more than 62 years after the establishment of the state of Israel and 43 years after Rabbi Goren’s Shofar blast at the walls of the Temple, do we still flock in droves to the walls of Jerusalem and sit low as mourners to remember a time of destruction of the Temple? Have we not obliterated the necessity for this holiday through the realization of Israel and Jerusalem? Are we only able to be a people of memory and pain? Have we become a people solely focused on history and sadness instead of hope and possibility?
“Tonight, as I sat at the southern portion of the Western Wall and saw thousands of people holding candles and chanting from the book of Lamentations, a strange view was offered me. The candles and moon created shadows reflecting off the ancient stone wall. The shadows appeared like people dancing and moving, reading, singing and playing instruments. Was this a shadow depicting the past or was this a foreshadowing of the days to come? It is up to us to decide.”
So here it is for you also to decide. Are you going to focus on where you are now and what you’ve become? As God begins to restore you, are you going to only focus on the past and not look forward? You can get yourself back in church, but can stagnate yourself and go the rest of your life missing out on the pleasures of the Christian life and continue to wallow in self pity and mourn the calamities that have befallen your life, the way Israel does once every year. Or, you can take the partial restoration God is allowing you to enjoy and build upon now, and move forward to be fully restored in this lifetime. Oh sure, Israel will be fully restored at Jesus’ return to Earth, but why be like Israel and wait until then.
If you have a period of time that you keep focusing on and it’s holding you back from enjoying God’s restorative power over the desolation your sinful ways brought about, if you have your own personal Ninth of Av, rip that page out of the calendar and move forward.