During the time of Moses, the Jewish people accepted slanderous reports from the 10 spies who said it would be impossible to conquer the land that God had promised them.
“The Jewish people cried for nothing,” Rabbi Yaakov Rosenstein of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center told The Chronicle. “God gave them something to cry about.”
From that day on, the ninth of Av was decreed a day on which unspeakable calamities would take place for the Jewish people for the rest of time. In correlation with the decree, on that day in 586 B.C.E., the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple. According to AISH.com, during the destruction of the Temple 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more were exiled.
The prophet Jeremiah was an eyewitness to all of the destruction and recorded the events in the “Book of Lamentations,” which is read every year on Tisha B’Av. “Lamentations” is comprised of five separate poems, each depicting the suffering of the Jewish people as God expressed utter disappointment with them.
“We put God into a bind,” Rosenstein said. “We didn’t deserve God, but he had to keep the covenant he made with the Jewish people.”
The “Book of Lamentations” is read two times on Tisha B’Av, once in the morning, and once at night. While “Lamentations” is being read, some congregations will dim the lights in their synagogues and remove the curtain from the ark. The cantor leads the prayer in a low and mournful voice, reminding worshippers of the suffering the Jews have endured.
In addition to the original “Book of Lamentations,” sets of poems were added throughout the Middle Ages to the present day. These additional poems are called Kinnot. Some Kinnot are written by Holocaust survivors and are included in the service. Eerily, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto en route to Treblinka death camp began on the eve of the ninth of Av, 1942.
Rosenstein said there is a silver lining to the holiday of Tisha B’Av.
“Even though it is a sad day, it is a time for us to feel that connection to God again,” he said.
As Israel deals with many issues connected with its survival as a Jewish state, Jews can use Tisha B’Av, and the “Book of Lamentations” as hope for the future.
One theme that is found in “Lamentations” is that although the Jewish people have been put through many challenges, all nations who have oppressed the Jewish people have come and gone while the Jews still remain.
“All the suffering the Jewish people have gone through is God using us to fulfill our mission,” Rosenstein said.
(Brandt Gelman can be reached at email@example.com.)