This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Shayna Hulkower
Here at EmunaDate, we go through the month before every Rosh Chodesh (a mini-holiday to mark the start of a new month), but the month of Av offers us a slightly different take on the deeper meaning of the month. While Rosh Chodesh is still a holiday, it is also the last opportunity to eat meat, drink wine, shower using hot water, or wear fresh clothing for the next 9 days. While we had already discussed the 'Three Weeks', the Nine Days is an intensification of the mourning Jews should experience in the lead-up to the date in time when both Temples were destroyed. Before we get into the laws of the Nine Days, let us explore the month of Av.
The word Av means father. The connection to the month can be found with the idea that Moshiach will be born on the 9th of Av. Rosh Chodesh Av is the yahrzeit of Aharon HaKohen, the 'father' of all the Levites. In addition to the sadness of the ninth, a short week later we have the 15th of Av, which is the Jewish 'Day of Love'.
The mazel for the month is Leo - a lion. The gematria, Jewish math, of aryeh, lion, is the same as the gematria for gevurah, or strength. This is a powerful month - it must be in order for the likes of Nevudchanetzer to lay a successful siege on the First Temple, or for both of the Temples themselves to be destroyed. The tribe associated with the month is Shimon, who due to his forceful nature didn't get a blessing from Moses at the end of the Chumash. Shimon was a destructive force, so much so that his tribe was not give a contiguous portion of land, just cities within other territories because of the strong potential for it's people to sin in a big way.
The sense associated with the month is hearing. Hearing is about more than just sound - it's about being able to perceive what is going on in way deeper than what words simply mean. When we say 'Shema Yisrael' - Hear Israel, the passuk is really saying 'Understand'. While the days leading up to the destruction of the Temple are a dangerous time for Israel, hence our aversion from certain activities such as swimming or anything that could potentially be dangerous (not the right time to try hang gliding over a canyon of poisonous snakes), if we take a step back we can see there is more to the picture than simple danger. The 9th of Av is the day the spies came back from Israel to the Jews in the desert with foreboding news of how hard it would be to conquer the land. The people got upset and cried, rather than remember the promise G-d made that they would be able to settle the land with minimal effort. The Jews didn't hear what G-d was telling them. Even through difficult times, it's important to keep in mind the promises made to the Jewish people.
In the same vein, the organ for this month is the left kidney. This organ in particular in Kabbalah is associated with the internalization of information into knowledge. When we hear something in a meaningful way and can internalize its message, only then can we use that information to change our behavior and become better people. The beginning of the month of Av is a time of great sadness for the Jewish people. However, this sadness can be avoided if the lessons of the spies, as well as the previous expulsions from the land are truly understood.
Rules for the Nine Days
From Rosh Chodesh through mid-day on the 10th of Av (when the Temple finally stopped burning) the following restrictions are in place in order to limit our joy to match the heavy period of time we are in. No unnecessary improvements to homes are made, no repairing of clothes nor purchasing new clothes. Clothes worn should not be 'fresh' from the laundry. Many people lay out their clothing in advance and roll around on it to take out the enjoyable freshness of it. Clothing shouldn't even be washed, unless it is absolutely necessary (such as you ran out of clean underwear). No hair cuts or showering, although there are some opinions that showers may be taken that are short and with cold water (especially important in the sultry Middle East). Festive meals are avoided, music is not allowed, and no meat or wine may be consumed, although exceptions are allowed for seudat mitzvah, such as the finishing of a book of Gemara.
These customs are not meant to serve as punishment. In times such as these when there is war in Israel, it's easier to understand wanting to avoid certain situations that can feel inappropriate due to the current events. While the beginning of the month of Av is a dark and dangerous time for Jews, the rest of the month is considered to be lighter and have a better mazel. It's all part of the ebb and flow of life.