Reflections on Av: How?

By Rabbi Debra J. Robbins

This week the new Hebrew month of Av began (on the evening of July 18) and we make our way toward Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av (beginning on the evening of July 26), a day of mourning and sadness in the Jewish calendar commemorating numerous historic events of devastation and destruction. Central to the observance is reading the Biblical book of Lamentations, often attributed to the prophet Jeremiah and said by some to have been written in direct response to the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem in 586 BCE. As the walls of the city and the Temple toppled, the people surely felt the earth beneath their feet, the world as they knew it, tottering. Maybe they heard echoing in their minds and hearts words from Psalm 104:5, “The Holy One established the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never totter…” recited only days earlier as the month began. We can hope it gave them some reassurance, even as they asked the existential, often repeated question of Lamentations, “Eichah — How?” All these generations later we often still feel our world, the physical one and our personal spiritual one, is unstable; we ask how does this happen and maybe, too, how will I respond? 

This meditation will be published in “New Each Day: A Spiritual Practice for Reading Psalms” by Rabbi Debra J. Robbins in December 2023 by CCAR Press. Please consider reading this passage in a quiet place, after taking a few deep breaths, at any point in the month of Av.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. She is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas and chair of Vaad HaMikvah. She is also the author of “Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year” published by CCAR Press.

Unshaken but Stirred, a Reflection for Focus on Psalm 104:5

Av is a month
for sitting, weeping, remembering.
Across millennia and miles,
calamities collide on the Ninth of Av,
failures of compassion and chaos
flood the earth,
threaten destruction of Creation.

Someplace in the Sinai wilderness, upon the scouts’ return: Doubt.
Jerusalem, 586 BCE and 70 CE: Destruction.
England, 1290: Deportation.
Spain, 1492: Forced Conversion.
Warsaw, 1942: Genocide.
Nagasaki, 1945: Nuclear Bombing.
Anywhere, anytime: Any pain of body or soul afflicting anyone.
Always, a cry from deep within,
a question without an answer: Eichah, how?

I know this ancient lament:
I cry those tears.
My heart is a tumult
of anxiety, loneliness, frustration, disappointment,
My soul melts in the sun’s blaze of summer,
huddled and hidden, deep in the darkness of daylight.

Eichah . . . How did this happen to me?
Eichah . . . How did this happen to those I love?
Eichah . . . How did this happen to our world?

I shake in my core.
But the earth remains,
steady in its orbit.
I voice the affirmation
that stirs me to care, to act, to live.
A reminder each month,
and Av’s promise to Elul:
The mountains may tremble, and the hills shake
but God’s chesed, generous love, never leaves us
and God’s b’rit shalom, covenant of wholeness, lasts forever . . .

It’s a month before the last month of the year.
All I haven’t done,
all I did do that I shouldn’t have done,
begins to rise.
I am shaken,
The words rouse me
to turn and return.
Dry the tears and calm the heart,
restore shape to the soul.
Steady the breath,
strengthen the intention,
ask another question.
How did this happen?
How will I respond?

With praise and thanks,
with singing and chanting:

You, O God, and Your universe
are unshaken,
and I, in this month of Av,
I am stirred in my soul.

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