There is an old joke that the Jewish fall holidays are always early or late, never on time. Sometimes they begin early in September, sometimes late. Almost every year is different from the last. That’s because the Jewish year follows a complicated solar-lunar calendar that is not in sync with the Gregorian calendar.
But in truth, the Jewish calendar is a remarkably well-organized system that we can use as a tool for our own spiritual development, if we pay attention to the ebb and flow of the months and the holidays they contain.
Tonight (August 10, 2019 on the Gregorian calendar) is Tisha B’Av. The name is also the date – the 9th day of the month of Av (if this confuses you, think of July 4th).
It is considered the lowest point of the Jewish year, a day of communal mourning. It commemorates the destructions of the Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragedies throughout the millennia. Most recently, the Nazis timed their “great campaign” of deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp on this date.
From this moment, when we remember the worst times in our communal history, we mark exactly seven weeks to Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the observance of the new year, new beginnings, new opportunities. We will toss our sins into the water to wash away, leaving us cleansed and ready for the promise of a new year.
This seven week time span is no accident. It is an echo of the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. That too marks our community going from the lowest point, from slavery in Egypt, to the highest point, when God revealed God’s Self at Mount Sinai and gave us the Ten Commandments.
It is traditional between Passover and Shavuot to count the days, using each day as an opportunity for introspection and spiritual growth. The same can be true of the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. We can take a moment each day to reflect on the year that has passed and the year to come, on our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world around us.
What do you want to leave behind after the year has ended? Unhappiness, fear, disappointment, self-doubt – all of these can be gently discarded, without self-recrimination, without anger, but with kindness toward ourselves.
What attributes do you want to take into the new year? Strength, humor, love, determination, kindness – these are attributes we can cultivate within, reaching out to others for support, reaching into ourselves with full knowledge that we are capable of both great depths and great heights.
Tisha B’Av is here, and today we can mourn all that has been lost, all the pain and suffering of the world around us both yesterday and today. Tonight we will chant Lamentations by candle light. Many Jews will fast until tomorrow evening, sitting on the floor or low chairs, lingering in the day-long mourning period.
But on Monday the mourning will end, and it is incumbent upon us to get up, and begin anew.