Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Ninth of Av--The Beginning...of Darkness

The Beginning…of Darkness

דאר"י אלמלא הייתי באותו הדור לא קבעתיו אלא בעשירי מפני שרובו של היכל בו נשרף ורבנן ס"ל אתחלתא דפרענותא עדיפא-בבלי תענית כט

"Rav Yochanan said had I been there at the time I would have established the fast on the tenth of Av because most the of Temple burned on that day. The Rabbis believed that the beginning of the calamity is harsher".

Rav Yochanan’s perspective is clear; commemorate the 10th day when the bulk of the destruction took place. What of the Rabbanan? What is it about the beginning of the terror that establishes the ninth of Av as the national day of mourning?

אתחלתא (nascent) usually has a positive connotation. Beginning, budding, promising…Much has been said with regard to the burgeoning of redemption, but today we must consider the inverse.
אתחלתא דפורענותא frightens us for two psychological reasons:

1. The constant refrain of the Jewish masses during the first Temple, especially after Assyria failed to conquer Jerusalem in 701 is היכל ה' היכל ה' היכל ה' המה—“It is the Temple of God, Temple of God, Temple of God” (how can anyone penetrate its holy shell?). When Nevuchadnetzer laid Jerusalem in siege the Israelites said, “it can never happen”. When Nevuchadnetzer broke through the outer walls the Israelites said “it can never happen”. Then, when the walls of the Bet Hamikdash were torn apart and the Babylonians entered the holy of holies…their world shattered. That shattering of a dreamlike state, of constant protection despite sin, of being forced to deal with a new harsh and ugly reality—that is churban, destruction.

2. When we speak of אתחלתא דגאולה we acknowledge that we are still far from an ideal state, but at the same time we see a spark, we see potential! Sitting in exile for two thousand years we were unable to entertain the idea of ‘geula’ simply because the notion of Jews returning en masse and setting up their own state in Palestine was inconceivable. After 1948, we saw the potential—אתחלתא דגאולה!

The exact opposite experience engulfed our ancestors on the first and second Tisha Bav. At the initial stage of attack, when the building was not in flames, the priests hadn’t been killed and the feeling of utter destruction was not yet a reality, they still felt the uneasiness of potential end. That was frightening. They began to picture in their minds what Jerusalem might be like in flames. That is terror.

Every year hence when we are forced to commemorate Tisha Bav, we acknowledge that sickening unease of the potential for total destruction.
Today, especially in our current heyday of אתחלתא דגאולה which should be a harbinger of the greatest potential turned into fulfillment, today we reckon with the inverse potential—----אתחלתא דפורענותאtoday we must consider the precariousness of our condition, a nation working towards גאולה but still having the potential of חורבן.