The 9th of Av According to Jewish tradition
The 9th of Av is one of five fasts on the Hebrew calendar (Fast of Gedaliah, Yom Kippur, 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tammuz and The 9th of Av).The 9th of Av is the most serious and important fast as it relates to the destruction of the First and Second Temples and according to tradition this day has a long history of calamities.
The fast starts at sunset until the evening hours of the next day when stars appear in the sky. Also, all the customary prohibitions that apply on Yom Kippur, such as; no eating, drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and having intimate relations, are in effect.
On The 9th of Av eve it is customary to read the Book of Lamentations. Also, as the theme of the evening is mourning, it is customary to sit on the floor while the scroll is read.
The 9th of Av According to Kabbalah
The 9th of Av is a day of mourning and fasting, in memory of the destruction of the Temple. However, this event occurred almost 2,000 years ago and since then, many more unfortunate disasters have happened to the Jewish people and perhaps even more horrific events than the destruction of the Temple, such as the Holocaust. It has been marked as a special day, so what is so special about The 9th of Av?
The Ari said that according to tradition, the Temple burned down on The 9th of Av in the afternoon. If this is so, then why do the mourning customs ease up during the time that the Temple was supposed to have been destroyed? It would seem that the deepest time of mourning
would occur during the time of the destruction, at around noon, not earlier.
The Zohar mentions The 9th of Av in the portion of “Va’Yishlah” in an article that begins with the words, “Therefore the people of Israel shall not eat the sciatica tendon (Gid HaNashe)”. This portion tells about Jacob returning to the Promised Land after years of staying abroad and while he crosses the Yabok River he meets an angel and struggles (fights) with him all night. The angel finally manages to hurt Jacob’s sciatica. Eventually, however, the struggle dwindles to a stop, the angel surrenders and he blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel. In Spirituality, and according to the Zohar, before every great discovery of enlightenment there is a major obstacle to overcome. This is to give us an opportunity to work for and to earn the good/”Light” we desire. Thus, the night before entering the Promised Land, Jacob – who symbolizes the bright side in all of us, and the struggle to achieve perfection of mankind – encountered an angel who represented the dark side, and Jacob had to fight him to enter the Promised Land.
According to Kabbalah, when a person reaches spiritual perfection, each of the 248 parts of his soul fills with Light. The opposite is also true. If a person allows dark forces to fill his soul, it can harm him and manifest physically in the body.
Jacob, as told in the Torah, was “Ish Tam”, meaning a whole person, that each of the 248 parts of his soul was so full of light that the dark angel that struggled with him couldn’t seriously harm him. However, it was mentioned above that Jacob did get hurt. How did the angel manage to do so? The Zohar teaches us that in addition to 248 organs we also have 365 sinews that serve as conduits of the energy of life. The Zohar also teaches that evil is placed in the Sciatica. Jacob, although he was an “Ish Tam” (a whole person), had still not reached his total spiritual perfection and therefore his sciatica was vulnerable. The angel knew this and attacked him in his weakest point. Each one of us is part of the whole that is mankind, and as long as the world around us experiences pain and suffering, and all of humanity has not yet come to its final correction (Tikun), then we as individuals cannot reach spiritual perfection, and that is why Jacob was hurt. As long as mankind continues to struggle/strive towards spiritual perfection (Tikun), there will always be cosmic forces of evil and mankind will experience this physically in the sciatica.
What is the reason for mourning and fasting on The 9th of Av?
The 9th of Av is one of the 365 days of the year that is being controlled by the Angel of Darkness – our individual selfishness and evil personality. Therefore, on The 9th of Av, we don’t want to do anything to give energy to the angel of darkness. Hence all the prohibitions and mourning customs observed on this day are to prevent us from nourishing the dark side. Sitting on the floor, grounds our frequencies and allows us to “fly under the radar” and not to be detected by unsavory forces. Eating and drinking attracts and generates energy and so does bathing, wearing leather shoes (leather draws energy – this is why Tefillin is made of leather), oils and ointments, intimate relations and studying Torah –all of this we try to avoid on The 9th of Av. All of this however, is not enough. We also need to build around us, a shield of protection from the negativity of this day. This could be done by partaking in a special study and reading of the Book of Lamentations. These actions are sufficient to protect us on this day.
Why do the mourning customs ease in the afternoon?
The first recorded disaster that happened on The 9th of Av was the sin of the Spies. The Spies were sent by Moses, on the first of Tammuz, to explore the Promised Land. It took them forty days and they returned on The 9th of Av. Moses knew they would return on this day, a day that had the potential of great danger and negativity, but he also knew the opposite could be true and there was the possibility to turn the energy of this day from negative to positive. Moses knew that if the spies returned on the day in which the angel of darkness prevailed, and if all of Israel would manage to overcome this force on that day, then at that moment, the coming of the Messiah would be possible – the end of all pain and suffering in the world. It has been mentioned above, in spirituality – the bigger the obstacle, the bigger the light to be revealed.
So how do we know that the Messiah is supposed to be born on The 9th of Av after noon (and at that time we can rise from the floor and sit on chairs)?
It is told in the Talmud that before the Romans entered the Temple they received explicit instructions from Titus, not to touch the structure, which was considered to be one of the most magnificent buildings and wonders of the world. However, we all know that somehow the temple burned. The sages realized that only the material illusion was burned, and that the temple still stood, and whoever reached a high enough spiritual level would be able to see and use it. In that moment, the sages received hope and comfort that redemption could be reached. Therefore on The 9th of Av afternoon we get up and sit down on chairs and ease up a little on the mourning laws, to help us connect to the energy of the Messiah, which is an ongoing hope for a better spiritual world.