Day 246: Tisha B’Av (Ezekiel 24:1-2)

An ultra-Orthodox Jew prays at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av

In the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.

Ezekiel 24:1-2

Through the Bible: Ezekiel 23-24

Every country has their days of infamy. Japan has August 6 and 9, 1945, the days Nagasaki and Hiroshima had the atomic bombs dropped on them. Rwandans would tell you their worst day was April 7, 1994, the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. Russians might say April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened.

And of course, we Americans can think of a lot of bad days. December 7, 1941 , November 22, 1963, January 28, 1986 (the Challenger explosion), and of course, 9/11.

For Jews, the day of Infamy is the 9th of Av, or Tish’a B’Av in Hebrew. In the ecclesiastical calendar which is based on the lunar cycle, Av is the fifth month of the year. On the Gregorian calendar (based on the sun), it’s the eleventh month.

The 9th of Av is considered the saddest day in Judaism. According to the Talmud, it marks the day Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. 2 Kings 25:8 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar’s army entered Jerusalem on the 7th of Av and burned the Lord’s temple. Jeremiah 52:12 says that it was the 10th of Av. The Talmud reconciles the two by stating that Nebuzaradan entered Jerusalem on the 7th, torched the Temple on the 9th, and it was still burning on the 10th.

Even today, Jews still commemorate the 9th of Av. The fast begins at sunset on the eighth of the Hebrew month of Av and concludes at nightfall the following day. To observe this day of mourning, Jews abstain from food, water and sources of joy. They customarily recite traditional elegies called kinot. They read the book of Lamentations.

In a weird coincidence, the 9th of Av was also the day the Second Temple was destroyed, in 70AD. And the “coincidences” don’t stop there.

  • The Mishna marks the 9th of Av as the day the 12 spies returned from Canaan and spread the bad report to the Israelites, resulting in their 40 years of wilderness wanderings (see Numbers 13)
  • On the 9th of Av in 1290, King Edward I of England issued the Edict of Expulsion, expelling all Jews from England.
  • On the 9th of Av in 1914, Germany entered World War I, causing massive hardship for Jews in Europe, and set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
  • In 1941, on the 9th of Av, German SS commander Heinrich Himmler was given approval for the “Final Solution,” the beginning of the Holocaust.
  • A year later on the Jewish calendar, the Warsaw ghetto was cleared, and all the Jews living in it were sent to the Treblinka concentration camp.

By the way, Jews in Europe and Israel follow the European convention of writing the day first followed by the month. So the 9th day of the 11th month would be written 9/11.

So then, if all this happened on the 9th of Av, why was God so adamant that Ezekiel write down the tenth day of the tenth month of the ninth year? Because that was the day Nebuchadnezzar began the siege (see 2 Kings 25:1). The siege would take two years. God wanted Ezekiel to mark the beginning of the siege, more than the end of it, because He wanted His people to remember the beginning of the end. The siege may have taken two years, but the 10th of the 10th was the point at which God said,

14 I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 24:14

What do we take from this? For me, it is a reminder that once the Lord determines to do something, it will be done. God had given His rebellious children so many opportunities to repent and return. Judah had seen Israel be destroyed; they could have repented then. The prophets had been sounding the same alarm for decades before this. And God used the tenth day of the tenth month to remind people that while God is slow to anger, he does get angry; and so that on the 9th day of the 11th month, the 9th of Av, no one would be able to say, “We never saw this coming.”

Every Tish’a B’Av, every 9/11, ought to be a reminder that what has happened before can happen again. There will come a day when it is too late to repent, but until that day, return to God.

For Further Reading:

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