As Napoleon Bonaparte walked through the streets of Paris, the sounds of crying and mourning emanated from within a synagogue. It was Tisha B’av, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, and the Jews were mourning their temple which had been destroyed. ‘When did this happen?’ Napoleon asked. ‘Around 1700 years ago,’ he was told. At which Napoleon proclaimed, ‘Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will one day merit to see it rebuilt!’
And indeed, until today, the 9th of Av and its preceding 3 weeks are days of bitter mourning for our nation. For it was then that, as the prophet Yirmiyahu writes so poignantly, ‘The lion has come up from its thicket: The destroyer of nations has set out, has departed from its place, to make your land a desolation; Your cities shall be ruined, without inhabitants.’ This was Nebuchadnezzar that Yirmiyahu was referring to and sadly every word of his prophecy was fulfilled. Shortly afterwards, the Temple was destroyed, to be left in ruins and desolation.
This allusion to Nebuchadnezzar as a lion is no coincidence; the zodiac symbol of this Hebrew month of Av is Leon - the lion. And the Yalkut Shimoni, an aggadic compilation, discusses this very concept in its commentary on the prophet’s writings. It tells us that, ‘In the fifth month (the month of Av) the Lion rose (Nebuchadnezzar) under the sign of the Lion (the zodiac of the month of Av) and destroyed Ariel, (the Temple which is known as Ariel - a lion).’ And why did this take place? The Yalkut continues: ‘So that the Lion (the Almighty) should come during the sign of the Lion (this month) and rebuild Ariel (the temple), thus transforming their grief to happiness.
The Talmud also relates that the Messiah will be born on the very same day as the destruction of the two Temples - the 9th of Av, and that he will be born from the tribe of Yehuda, whose symbol too is the lion.
It is apparent then, that the destruction and the redemption are intrinsically connected, and that their coming during the reign of Leo is not a coincidence. Neither is it a coincidence that the 9th of Av is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, yet according to the Gemara the 15th of Av – a mere 6 days later - is the happiest. Because crucially, it is from within the suffering that the redemption emerges. On the day of redemption, G-d will not redeem us; rather we will have redeemed ourselves. And the destruction of the 9th of Av is nothing but a necessary precursor for the celebration of the 15th of Av.
This is where the power of Leo comes into play. For we are not powerless victims desperately awaiting salvation from our Father in heaven. Instead, we are strong like lions, mighty enactors of our fate, walking the paths we create. Yes, the path may be long, and it may be inlaid with suffering, but it is our strength that will pull us through to our salvation, and it is through this very suffering that we create our solution.
Every year, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’av is known as Shabbat Chazon – the Shabbat of Vision. It is named thus for the Haftarah reading from Isaiah which relates his prophecies of doom describing the destruction of the temple. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak however, brings down from kabbalah that on this Shabbat, each one of us is shown a vision of the third and final Temple. It is a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, ‘Though we do not ourselves see, our souls see’, and it is one that evokes a profound response within us. For even from the darkness of exile, we can still connect to the glimmers of redemption for which this exile was created. And this is the beauty of the exile that we live in today, and this is the hope that we hold onto. Castaways we are not; rather we are the architects of our salvation. For the solution lies within our hands.