What happens when the worlds seems to crumble? How are we able to carry on after total disaster? These are questions that Jews have had to ask far to many times in our history. In some ways it has transformed the tribe into permanent victims, but it has also made us the ultimate survivors. The month of Av is a celebration of survival, if we choose to embrace it this way. Av asks us the question: are you a victim or a survivor?
Rosh Chodesh Av falls in the three-week period of time traditionally known as bein ha-metzarim (בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים), which means “between the straits.” This is the time when tradition tells us that both the first and second Temples fell. The holiday of Tisha B’Av (9th of Av) is the focal point of the month’s devastation holding five different biblical-era and talmudic-era tragedies, along with several modern-era tragedies:
- G!d/dess decreed the desert generation of the bible would not enter the holy land (Num 14:21-23)
- First Temple destroyed and first exile (586 BCE)
- Second Temple destroyed and seccond exile (70 CE)
- Roman destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE)
- Bar Kokhba revolt fails (135 CE)
- Jewish explution from England (1290 CE)
- Jewish expultion from Spain (1492 CE)
- World War I begins (1914 CE)
- Mass transportation of Jews from Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka death camp begins (1942 CE)
These are just the official tragedies of Tisha B’Av. There may be many more, both large and small, that have not entered the official cannon. Tisha B’Av leads us to believe that Av is all about mourning, but it is about the continuation of life. Much like the “Mourners’ Kaddish,” which never mentions death or mourning reminds us that life moves on even in the deepest moments of tragedy.
But how can we move from such overwhelming tragedy to new life?
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The answer is through the path of the Maiden (Na’arah), as often it is the children in our lives that ensure that life goes on. The transformation begins on Tu B’Av, only four days ater Tisha B’Av. Hillel.org explains it this way: “The healing process from Tisha B’Av begins almost immediately. Just six days later, on the 15th of Av, we observe Tu B’Av. The Talmud teaches, “there were no holidays so joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av and Yom HaKippurim.” On this day, unmarried Jewish women would borrow white dresses and dance in the fields, where single men would be waiting for them. Additionally, on this day in Biblical times, various bans against marrying between tribes were lifted.” (Bava Batra 121:6)
So much healing is packed into this little holiday! Notice the girls, the maidens, borrow their dresses. They borrow them so the line between rich and poor is blurred. They borrow dresses from each other to ensure that no one need be ashamed of their clothes. After all, Jerusalem was just destroyed and the rich might now be poor and the poor might now seem rich. Providing normalcy to children is one of the first thing parents try to do after a tragedy. This borrowing of dresses and holding of joyous holidays is such a simple way to ensure that children feel normal.
This holiday is also associated with marriages. Bans against marrying between tribes were lifted! Imagine if Romeo and Juliet had access to a holiday like this? The story could be a lot less tragic. Tu B’Av is a moment to repair the rifts in families and tribes — necessary for survival in times of tragedy and crisis.
Av is a month for us to tear down our walls, both physical and emotional, to prepare for Elul and the coming High Holidays. The challenge of Av is to move on from what holds us back and be strong enough to heal. The Strength card of the Tarot, associated with the month of Av, generally shows a maiden in a white dress pacifying a lion. Older versions show a young woman holding a crumbling pillar with a lion behind her or nearby. The ties between this and the month of Av are very clear. The maiden is who holds the tribe together, even as the walls of Jerusalem fall. For her, for the next generation, we move forward. It’s also important to note how this ties Av and Elul together: the astrological sign of Av is the Leo/Lion and the sign of Elul is Virgo/Betulah. The maiden is the Netivah of Av and the astrological sign of Elul. Av and Elul are our gateways to entering Tishrei and the High Holy Days.
Through her, through them, we find the courage to heal. We find the strength to heal and rejoice with the Maiden, even when things are at their worst.