The Rabbi Who Laughed
The Rabbi Who Laughed
Time. Land. People. Worship. War.
The convergence of these stare us in the face on the evening news, as the terrible reports out of the Middle East once again take center stage on the world’s platform.
No question – these are dark and difficult days. Cities in Israel are living under the threat rocket fire from Hamas or Hezbollah. Strong young men are going to war, and not all are coming back. Innocent women and children in the Palestinian territories are paying a terrible price for Hama’s and Fatah’s mad ideology. All over the world, demonstrators are calling out again against the Jews. Around us are anger, chaos, and ruin.
Dark days indeed. And the timing could not have been more supernatural, but in some ways, expected.
If you walk closely with Israel and the Jewish people and learn their calendar, you know that every summer the Jews mark a challenging yet holy, historic and spiritual drama known as the “Three Weeks”. During this strange season of time, throughout Jewish history, terrible things have occurred. It is uncanny to see the consistency with which this period of time seems to mark heightened spiritual and then natural drama and attack.
The mourning began with the 17th of Tammuz in the Hebrew calendar, a day of fasting that commemorates the breach of Jerusalem’s walls leading up to the holy city’s destruction in 70 A.D. This day begins the three-week period of distress until the major fast day of the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av). These three weeks are times of crisis and destruction, not just historical but also spiritual. It is a time when security is disrupted, defenses are ruptured, safety is compromised, the reliable becomes weak.
Yet this three-week period of despair is followed by a longer period focused on God’s comfort and consolation. What is the connection? What is the comfort? How does God console His people? How does He console us, today, when we witness so much destruction and evil?
When we listen for God’s voice, even in the midst of the pain and challenge of life, we find that He does, always, bring “beauty from ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3) We learn to find God’s comfort from among the ruins and hopelessness. The famous Rabbi Akiva lived in the late 1st-early 2nd century. He was one of those special people who had great spiritual sensitivity.
The story goes that Rabbi Akiva once walked with his rabbinic colleagues and looked at Temple Mount, which had been completely destroyed and overrun. The once holy and magnificent place was so desolate that wild animals ran there. The rabbis, quite reasonably, saw the sad situation, and began to weep at the destruction, but not Rabbi Akiva. No, Rabbi Akiva began laughing. His friends were shocked. What could there be to laugh about?
Rabbi Akiva turned to them and said “We know the prophecies that said there would be destruction of the Temple. We see that these prophecies have come been fulfilled. But we also know that the prophets have declared that Zion will be restored, and Jerusalem will be comforted again. I am laughing with joy because since we see that the first prophecy is true, so surely, the second will also come to pass!” And the other Rabbis were comforted in this declaration of faith.
The connection is a simple one: a promise.
And not just any promise, but a promise made by He who is Faithful.
Are you in a “three weeks” time? It seems that all around us right now, there is instability, uncertainty, and destruction in every area – not only the Middle East. I remind us today that “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (I Thess. 5:24)
For the seven weeks following Tisha b’Av, Jews read aloud the holy promises and divine comfort from the book of Isaiah each Shabbat morning in the synagogue. One of those promises specifically is that there will be “Watchmen on the Walls” of Jerusalem who will not keep silent – they are alert, they are prepared, they strengthen the walls with their vigilance. As the world continues to condemn Israel and distance themselves from her, we must dedicate ourselves anew to serve as an instrument of God’s comfort, and to be part of that very promise of restoration. May we join Rabbi Akiva, and laugh with hope.