By Rabbi Raymond Apple
The fast of Tishah B’Av is the culmination of the Three Weeks, the time period known as “Bein HaMetzarim,” Between the Straits.
This is based on a verse from Eichah 1:3, “All her (Israel’s) pursuers caught her between the straits.”
One view is that the verse is metaphorical and indicates that “the Jewish people were in desperate straits.” The Arugat HaBosem carries out a count and finds that the letters of the verse, “kol rod’fehah hisiguhah bein ha’metzarim,” have the same numerical value as “heimah chaf-aleph yamim mi’yud-zayin b’Tammuz ad Tishah B’Av”—these are the 21 days from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av.”
The Midrash Eichah Rabbati recalls the blossoming almond-twig that Jeremiah saw, and says that it takes 21 days for the blossoms to turn into almonds. The pain caused by the enemy worsened from day to day until it reached its peak on 9 Av.
The Style Changes
There are five chapters in Megillat Eichah read on Tishah B’Av. Tradition ascribes these chapters to the prophet Jeremiah.
When you read it, you see how the poet’s style changes. The first chapter is searing but simple, and only as the book progresses does the author use more complicated language.
The explanation might be tied up with the impact of the events of the destruction. At first the author is almost struck dumb at what has happened. He can hardly do more than, in effect, say, “Woe is me! Woe is me! Vey iz mir! Vey iz mir!”
Like Jeremiah, all we want to do — all we can do — at first is simply to weep. Time allows us to look for words and to speak through the midst of our tears. It is not (despite the common saying) that time is a great healer, but what happens is that we begin to get used to the pain.
G-d as the Enemy
The Book of Lamentations 2:5 says, “G-d has become an enemy.”
It reminds us of the beginning of Psalm 22 which asks, “My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me?” Feeling that events too horrific to handle have blackened our lives, we fear that even G-d has let us down and we cannot see any support or relief coming from Him. We can’t possibly understand or explain how bereft and abandoned G-d has made us feel.
Do we realize how bad He Himself must feel when some of His children have defied Him so cruelly while others think He doesn’t care about them anymore?
There is a time when He can only help us if we try to help Him.
No wonder Etty Hillesum, about to be deported from Amsterdam in July 1942, said, “I shall try to help You, G-d, to stop my strength ebbing away. We have to safeguard the little piece of You, G-d, in ourselves. We must help You and defend Your dwelling-place inside us to the last …”
Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue, and freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honors. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at OzTorah.com.