Balak: From where can the Jewish people derive comfort and consolation?
We’re just about to commence the three weeks, which will take us from the 17th of Tammuz through to Tisha b’Av. It’s a sad time of the year when we recall many tragedies which befell our people. This period of sadness reaches its climax during the month of Av and, interestingly, Av is one of two months whose titles have additions. The first is Cheshvan which is popularly known as Mar Cheshvan, the bitter Cheshvan, while Av is popularly called Menachem Av, the Av that comforts.
I find this intriguing. Cheshvan is called Mar Cheshvan because there’s nothing special in it – no festivals, nothing exciting. However if there is one month on our calendar that should be called ‘mar’, bitter, surely it should be Av, because it’s the bitterest time of the year. Av, however, is called Menachem and it is in the present tense; the month of Av continues to provide comfort and consolation to us. Why?
There are very few nations in this world which mark on their calendar a moment of deep national embarrassment. Sometimes history is rewritten. On other occasions, it is conveniently forgotten about. But in Jewish tradition, our calendar is full of days on which we commemorate our defeats, our mistakes and our moments of national guilt.
This is because we recognise the importance of knowing where we’ve gone wrong in the past, and that it is a source of comfort and consolation for us. Coming into the three weeks, we will not only be recalling what happened but, perhaps more significantly, why it happened: why those sad and tragic events of the 17th of Tammuz transpired; why the loss of our temples and other national tragedies on Tisha b’Av took place. And once we recognise where we have gone wrong, we can begin to put our national house in order to guarantee a bright and successful future.
Cheshvan therefore is understandably ‘mar’, bitter, because we don’t learn anything special from it. Av, however, has the potential to be sweet, because it’s a month that gives us comfort since by learning the lessons of our past we can hopefully carve out a glorious future. No wonder therefore that our prophets called the day of Tisha B’Av a ‘moed’ meaning festival, indicating that this is a time of year which will, please God, be transformed from sadness to celebration.
Thanks to the month of Av, may all of us be inspired to make that transformative impact on the world so that through our deeds, the ultimate redemption will happen speedily in our time.
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