August 10th marked the saddest day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.
On this day Jews around the world mourn every tragedy in the long history of the Jewish people through fasting, reading the Book of Lamentations, and crying out to God in prayer.
Many horrible tragedies occurred on the 9th of Av. Both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. With the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Jews of Israel were dispersed to “the four corners of the earth,” beginning an exile whose bitter ramifications are still felt today.
I want to share with you a story that was on my heart as I spiritually prepared for the darkest day of the Jewish year. The story is recorded in the Talmud (Judaism’s Oral Tradition) and took place shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
A famous rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, and his colleagues, who were the Jewish leaders of the time, travelled to Mount Scopus in order to witness the destruction of the Temple for themselves. When they caught their first glimpse of the ruins, they were overcome by grief and tore their clothing in mourning. They got to the Temple Mount and saw foxes running around where the Holy of Holies once stood, and they cried. However, Akiva laughed.
“Why are you laughing?” the rabbis asked.
“Why are you crying?” Akiva replied.
Incredulous, the rabbis explained that they were looking at the holiest place in the world “and now foxes run through it! How could we not cry!” they exclaimed.
“That is why I am laughing,” Akiva answered. He continued, “One prophet said, ‘because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field’ (Micah 3:12). Another prophet said, ‘once again men of women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.’ (Zechariah 8:4-5). Since the words of one prophet have been fulfilled, I now know that the words of the other prophet will also be fulfilled.”
To this the rabbis exclaimed, “You have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us.”
I think of this story often as I personally witness so many of God’s prophecies coming to fruition. We have seen the return of the Jewish people to Israel, and I have watched my own children play in the streets of Jerusalem. The land of Israel, once barren and lifeless, is bursting with life and exporting its fruit to the rest of the world. Just last week I witnessed the return of over 300 Ukrainian Jews to Israel on Fellowship-sponsored Freedom Flights. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, joined me in greeting the new olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) to their ancient homeland.
As the generation blessed to watch God’s prophecies unfold, we of all people should know for certain that all of God’s prophecies will come to be, no matter how difficult things may seem. So although this Tisha B’Av I mourned nearly two millennia of Jewish exile and suffering, I will not give up hope.
This ministry gives me so much strength as we actively help bring God’s promises to fruition. I know that we are on the doorstep of redemption – may we see it soon, together. Amen!