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Tisha b'Av and the God who Suffers 

Romans carrying away the menorah from the TempleThis coming Saturday night begins the fast of Tisha b'av on which we mourn the destruction of both the first and second Temples. According to the midrash, the messiah was born on Tisha b’av, when the first Temple, the Temple of Solomon, was destroyed. Something happened when the Temple was destroyed that kicked off the final redemption.

What happened?

G-d suffered as He’d never suffered before. He lost His House, His place in the world, and saw His People go off into exile. This hurt G-d because He thirsts for man’s love, because He so much wants to dwell within the hearts of His people, and they rejected Him. G-d and the Jewish People went into exile together (G-d's love is unconditional), sharing now not only G-d’s Glory, but also G-d’s humiliation. Wherever they went, He went, for G-d said, “If they cannot lift themselves to be close to Me in my Majesty, let them at least be close to Me in My Humiliation.” The destruction of the Temple added a new dimension to the religious life of the Jewish People. It introduced a motif that would ultimately provide the foundation for a new covenant, a new revelation and a new relationship between G-d and man, for it revealed that G-d suffers on account of our sins and that He suffers with us in our sinfulness. Tisha b’av revealed the possibility of being close to G-d, not only by imitating Him, by being saintly and holy, but also by sharing the suffering and humiliation which our own sins cause Him.

In that sense, Tisha b’av might be seen as the beginning of Christianity. It would be several hundred years, just about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple, before G-d would assume the body of a man and reveal Himself to all mankind as the G-d who suffers on account of our sins. The Christian era, in which G-d would become known as the G-d Who Suffers, began with the destruction of the Second Temple and yet another round of terrible exile and suffering for both G-d and His People. Through Christian faith, all mankind participates in that pain and, in that way, participates the covenantal relationship between G-d and Israel.

I think that it is very appropriate for the Catholic Jew to join the Jewish people in the mourning on Tisha B’av. Mourning for the destruction of the Temple, of what Jesus himself called, “My Father’s House,” they are mourning the loss of G-d’s Presence in the world (which we see all around us) and join their pain to His on this day on which G-d suffered so much for love of His People.

On Tisha b’av, the Messiah was born because the destruction of the Temple is a figure of the Cross.

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