Today is Rosh Hodesh Av, the new moon of the month of Av. In “Jewish time”, we are in the midst of the period known as the Three Weeks. According to the Talmud, it was during these three weeks in the year 70 C.E. that the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem and then, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’av – Tisha means “9” in Hebrew) destroyed the Bet Hamikdash, the Holy Temple that had stood for centuries. Eerily, centuries earlier in 586 B.C.E. during these same three weeks of the summer Babylonian invaders similarly destroyed the original Bet Hamikdash, built during King Solomon’s reign.
These ancient tragedies aligned to make these weeks a period of mourning in the Jewish calendar. These events, and our ability as a people to survive them and remember them, also embedded the concepts of exile and return into our collective psyche. We are a people who have, against all odds, maintained our connection to our ancestral homeland over a period of 3,000 years despite repeated upheavals, defeats and dislocations. Our ancient prophets promised that one day we would be able to return home, and we never forgot their words.
Our perseverance is a mystery to me, and also a source of awe. In about 520 B.C.E., as the prospect emerged of return from Babylonian exile, the prophet Zechariah declared: “Thus says YHVH: There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing in the squares. Thus says YHVH: Though it may seem impossible to the remnant of this people, shall it also be impossible to Me? Thus says YHVH: I will rescue My people from the lands of the east and from the lands of the west and I will bring them home to dwell in Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 8:4-8)
2,500 years later, the crowds of old and young filling the squares of Jerusalem, 2015, certainly fulfill Zechariah’s prediction. Life and human history ebb and flow endlessly, exile and return, dispersion and gathering in, destruction and renewal, and somehow the Jewish people are still here.