It is the height of summer and we are observing a period of mourning leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. There are three “Haftarahs of Rebuke” which are read in the three weeks preceding Tisha B’Av, all words from the prophet Jeremiah. On this week’s Shabbat we read two parshas: Mattot and Masei.
Jeremiah was a prophet whose life spanned the reign of 5 kings. It was a tumultuous time in Jewish history, a time of idolatry and war. Jeremiah warned B’nei Yisrael that they were going to be punished for their idol worship, . At the end of his life, in 586 BCE, Judah was destroyed and Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, who was reviled for his messages, escaped to Egypt but the majority of Jews were exiled to Babylon. The illustration I created for Mattot is an homage to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. I have drawn Jeremiah looking out of his window watching his beloved city’s destruction.
The path the Israelites followed from Egypt to Canaan is described in great detail in the first 49 verses of the parsha Masei. It was a long and arduous journey for the Israelites and they strayed from Gd’s lessons throughout.
In the haftarah of Masei the prophet Jeremiah reminded B’nei Yisrael how Gd led His people “out of the land of Egypt, through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and of the shadow of death…. And into a land of fruitful fields…” (ch.2: 6,7).
There is negativity and sadness in the haftarah. Jeremiah reminded B’nei Israel of the difficult trek through the desert and how Gd protected and took them to the Promised Land. Then Jeremiah describes B’nei Yisrael’s sins. At the very end of the haftarah Jeremiah mitigates the message slightly by telling the people that if they return to Gd “in sincerity, justice and righteousness nations will bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you.”
The word “איך”- How? is used twice in the haftarah asking how Israel can have changed so much, turning to sinning and base behaviour. This reminds us of the word “איכה”- the Hebrew word for “Lamentations”. On the Ninth of Av we will read the book of “Lamentations”.
Messages from the haftarah still resonate today. We are blessed to be in the “Land of Milk and Honey”, creating, cultivating, and helping nations in need. During these three weeks Jews all over the world will read Jeremiah’s words and hopefully try to improve themselves and society around them. Have a good week, and let’s look forward to a time of jubilation and more positive growth.
The artwork featured in this and most of my blogs is part of a collection of art created to illustrate the haftarahs read throughout the year. Currently the collection is on exhibit at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, Canada. It is a great exhibit of my work and will be on display to the end of December, 2019. And, to let you know, I am currently working on a book of the art pieces and accompanying commentary. Exciting!!!! Have a Shabbat Shalom, Laya
Tisha B’Av- a day of mourning on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av
Readings- Lamentations written by the prophet Jeremiah, poems of sorrow (kinot) by Jewish writers from throughout history
For many Jews Tisha B’Av is the most difficult day of the year. It is a fast day (no eating or drinking for about 26 hours) during which we reflect upon many tragedies that took place on the 9th of Av throughout history. The destructions of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem (586 BCE and 70 CE), the fall of Bar Kochba’s outpost at Betar (135 CE), the expulsion of the Jews from England (1290 ), the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492), and the commencement of World War I in 1914 are some of those disasterous events.
We are a people of words. Words, specifically poetry, convey despair, angst and loss more effectively than any other medium.
section of Eicha
The Book of Lamentations is attributed to Jeremiah , the prophet who lived at the time of the destruction of the first Temple. Eicha is a book comprised completely of poetry. The searing desolation of the people- their hunger, loss and despair are experienced and described. The reading of The Book of Lamentations is followed by readings of shorter poems or kinnot . The kinnot (dirges) were composed by various writers and authors throughout our history. These writers recognized that the pain of persecution and expulsion was not limited to the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The disasters continued with crusades, pogroms, expulsions, the public burnings of Torah scrolls and sacred books, the holocaust, and even more recent massacres.
art by Laya Crust
The beautiful and searing poems were written by notable scholars and poets such as Rabbi Elazar Hakalir and Rabbi Judah Halevi. Many congregations add modern kinnot to the traditional list and even have “kinnot slams” to involve and express current events.
Tisha B’Av is a time of reflection not just of oneself but of history, nation, and community behaviour. We are surrounded by enemies. Not just those who want to destroy us as a people or destroy the country of Israel, but enemies such as greed, selfishness, and egocentricity. Those traits lead to not caring about others, not helping others and the fraying of beautiful communities.
This Tisha B’Av I hope you read the rich poetry of our nation and make it a healing experience.
Have a meaningful week,
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