EQUILIBRIUM AND MODERATION
Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Cor.13:11)
“To ignore the paradox is to miss the truth.”
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of Eternity
The three week period of semi-mourning, that began on the 17th of Tammuz, continues into the month of Av. In the Northern hemisphere it poses a paradox as this period of mourning coincides with summer vacations and family fun. Altogether, Av is a month riddled with paradoxical details and illustrates the tension that paradox creates.
This tension seems in contradiction to the trait of the month – equilibrium; which we associate with peace of mind and inner calm. As Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv noted: “A person who has mastered peace of mind has gained everything.” It is easy to stay peaceful when all is going well, but what happens when we are faced with the inevitable frustrations and “downs” of life? We can encounter situations on a daily basis that erode our equilibrium! Rabbi Menachem Mendel Leffin advises that to keep our hearts and minds on an even keel we must learn to …”rise above events that are inconsequential – both bad and good, for they are not worth disturbing your equanimity over.” In other words our reactions to both the good and bad things that happen should be calm and balanced.
Achieving equilibrium enables us to act with moderation in all things. Over-reaction to a negative situation can cause one to move from concern to becoming agitated, and even angry, or hysterical and out of control. The opposite, also undesirable, reaction is shutting down and becoming apathetic. Maintaining one’s equilibrium enables one to stay calm and balanced and to react with grace rather than with irritation or anger. In faith, one can view the challenge as a test and trust the Lord for wisdom and strength to deal with it. One can even find a positive aspect to it and focus on that.
The prophet Isaiah offers a key to achieving calmness of mind and spirit. “You will keep her in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You” (26:3). “Stayed” can be rendered as fixed, anchored, focussed, stuck-like-glue! Let nothing distract our minds off of our Father in Heaven. And, as the apostle Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Messiah Yeshua.
The mind is the battlefield. Keep in mind that every problem is mental and every solution spiritual. Turning our minds and hearts to our Father in prayer and gratitude results in Shalom!
SORROW TO JOY
The name of this fifth Hebrew month literally means ‘father’ – Abba. We see an example in Psalm 103:13, K’rachem av al banim… “As a father is merciful to his children, so has HaShem shown mercy to those who fear Him.” When our minds are stayed on Him we can rest in the knowledge that our lives are in the hands of a loving and faithful Father who has us securely in His care.
On the other hand, the 9th of Av – Tisha b’Av, a day of deep mourning and fasting, marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples as well as the tragic exile of the majority of G-d’s people from the Land. Tisha b’Av also commemorates the many persecutions and pogroms, Crusades and Inquisitions perpetrated against the Jewish people throughout the centuries that followed.
Interestingly, the actual date of death of only one person is recorded in the Torah; that of Aaron, the brother of Moses. We read that forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, G-d called Aaron to Mount Hor and he died there. When? “In the fifth month on the first of the month” (Numbers 33:38) – the first of Av. Aaron, the High Priest, is also known as Rodef Shalom – the Pursuer of Peace. As one who daily was bathed in the presence of G-d’s holy presence in the Tabernacle, he desired to reflect that to others and always sought unity and peace. He was deeply loved by the people and his death was an occasion of deep mourning. The sadness of Aaron’s death in the same month seems fused with the mourning of the destruction of the Dwelling places of G-d
So, here we have the paradox of the Father’s loving care and protection and yet the sadness and destruction faced by His people. Av indeed is a month split in two: the waxing moon is a time of mourning and sorrow and the waning moon is one of comfort, love and joy. Immediately after Tisha B’Av the weekly haftorahs (prophetic portion read together with the Torah portion) become portions of Consolation from the prophet Isaiah. Then, the central day of the month, the fifteenth of Av – Tu b’Av – marks the turning point for joy.
Tu b’Av was celebrated as a joyous festival hundreds of years before the First Temple was built. It was the celebration of the grape harvest, and the time the white squill blooms all over Israel. The tall tapered stems, covered with small white flowers, stand out brightly against the yellow and brown fields at the end of a long, hot summer. They are a clear season marker, for Tu b’Av signals the summer solstice and there is a subtle change as the days begin to shorten and clouds start to appear in the sky, announcing the approaching rains of winter. The virgin maidens, to reflect the blossoming lace-like white squills, would don white dresses and dance in the vineyards of Shiloh, and wedding matches were made. To this day the fifteenth of Av is celebrated in Israel as “Sweetheart’s Day”!
In rabbinic literature Tisha b’Av, the day of great mourning, is the date reckoned to be the birth date of the Messiah – the Savior-King who brings new life. We can indeed rejoice in the paradox of “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” who is our Shepherd and who guides us to “springs of living water” that bring mercy, grace, hope and truth (Revelation 7:17) and the King of kings, the Lion of Judah who will reign over all the earth (Revelation 5:5-6).
Thus, the last weeks of Av are marked by harvest and romance and act as a prelude to the month of Elul and to the Fall Feasts which prophetically herald the arrival of the “Lion of Judah” and the “Marriage supper of the Lamb.” Av, therefore, while acknowledging and mourning the sorrow, evil, and hardship to be found in the world, celebrates the constant truth of new life in the One who is the Source of all life. Our Father G-d is bringing us to full Redemption, when, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “death will be swallowed up forever and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth” (25:8). His Kingdom will be established in the earth and the dwelling of God will rest in Jerusalem and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
EQUILIBRIUM AND MODERATION
Here and now, what do we do when faced with painful loss, distressing circumstances, or illness? Living in the relative comfort of our modern Western culture we tend to ignore and deny the possibility of suffering as much as possible. We fear that it will undermine our happiness, which can seem so fragile and unstable. As a result, we face the sad fact that when our happiness is marred and our equilibrium is shaken we tend to lose the balance of moderation one way or the other. Western society is plagued by problems of extremes – excess consumerism, over-eating, leading to obesity or under-eating leading to anorexia,
too little exercise or an excessive focus on physical fitness, over-working, constant entertainment seeking, and a myriad other addictions. All in an attempt to drown our fears and avoid suffering. However, Erica Brown, in her book In the Narrow Places, observes: “Ignoring suffering dehumanizes us, while being attuned to suffering makes us more compassionate. We become more grateful and can more deeply appreciate the blessings in our lives.”
Sherri Mandel, who suffered the agonizing loss of her young teenaged son who was brutally murdered by terrorists, shares in her book The Road to Resilience:
“Doubt, pain, and brokenness will mould your character so that you are more compassionate and live in an enlarged context. Your process of healing may in fact exalt you and propel you toward a more intimate relationship with G-d, the Infinite and the Eternal.” She adds: “Paradoxically, loss can lead toward greater awareness of the everyday pleasure that surround us… Suffering can highlight the miracles in the mundane.” And finally, “In the face of adversity, the recreation of self may be our most creative act.”
When we know that our lives are in our Father’s hands, we can understand that whatever experience we are facing is the one He has allowed in order to to enable us to reach a higher level of spiritual awareness and personal maturity. That is a child of G-d’s great hope. In His grace, comfort, and powerful love He gives us the tools and means to “recreate ourselves” – to center ourselves on Him, clear our minds, settle our souls, and regain equilibrium. When, in faith we believe He is able, and turn to Him in prayer for guidance and help, He provides us with the courage and strength to press through any crisis. Even when there seems to be no clear way and “best choice,” His Spirit of Holiness can impart wisdom to enable us to make the decisions we need to make in order to begin moving through and beyond whatever obstruction we are facing.
Of course, we can’t always feel that we are effortlessly soaring higher or spiralling upward. Often we fail. Sometimes our progress feels like “three steps forward – two steps back,” Nevertheless, the baby steps are being made. We learn and are strengthened for the next stage of the upward climb!
The month of Av ultimately represents the balance of elements we deal with constantly on our journey through life – sadness and joy, justice and mercy, anger and grace, discord and unity, what is hidden and what is revealed. Undergirding it all is the knowledge that our Father, in His abundant love and mercy towards us, is in control and He is guiding us and preparing the way before us.