The Contrasting Month of Av: From Lamentations to Opportunity
By Chaya Hoch
Av is a month of contrasts. We lament destruction, yet we are promised renewal. We experience both bitter and sweet, sadness and joy. It is a month known as Menachem Av. The first word, “comfort,” gives us some encouragement—that despite it all, our “Av,” or “Father,” in heaven is with us.
Let’s explore how to tap into this added aspect of “comfort.” Through which lensWe lament destruction, yet we are promised renewal should we view those dark moments, personally and collectively? How do we draw strength and find the good in every situation we find ourselves in as a nation?
To gain a more wholesome perspective, we can take a look at the origins of good and evil, sadness and joy, and sometimes, the fusion of both.
Everything in this world has a shell. Let’s take fruits and nuts, for example. Some peels, husks or shells are coarse or prickly, like a pineapple or coconut. Others are sweet, and some may be sour, though we can incorporate a rind into food.
Nuts, by contrast, all have a hard shell. The Hebrew word for “shell” or “outer layer” is klipa (“impurity”). Practically, a shell is a protection allowing what’s inside to grow, protecting it from various elements. There are “fruits” created with a very hard shell to crack, while others can be soft or edible. Underneath the surface, though, they all have unique and necessary vitamins or minerals.
Spiritually, that’s also a metaphor for life. Everything in essence is good, yet sometimes the packaging makes it difficult to unearth. Sometimes, there are situations that seem far from ideal, though we can be privy to the eventual positive outcome. Other times we may never feel that we are benefiting from the juicy fruit that’s underneath the bitter shell.
The almond has special significance in the month of Av, and there are various lessons we can learn from its harvesting and taste. An almond has a hull, a shell and the nut inside. The hull opens while on the tree; however, the shell is fully closed and needs to be manually opened to retrieve the nut. There are those almonds that are bitter at the outset and after ripening become fully sweet, and there are those that are sweet at the outset and when fully ripened become bitter.
The historical significance of the almond appears in a prophecy of Jeremiah (Yirmiyahu), the author of Eicha (the book of Lamentations read on Tisha B’Av), who lived during the time of the first Holy Temple. In his prophecy regarding the destruction of the Temple, he sees a staff of almonds. Like almonds, which blossom early in spring, this vision served as a warning to the Jews that they should waste no time in changing direction and repenting. They didn’t heed Jeremiah’s warnings. And eventually, his words rang true with much suffering and the destruction of the Holy Temple on the ninth day of Av, known to this day as Tisha B’Av.
When the Holy Temple was constructed together with its holy vessels, the almond is mentioned when G‑d explained to Moses how to construct the menorah. “Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the Menorah base are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms” (Exodus 25: 33-34).
This menorah with its almond flowers—together with the golden table of the tabernacles and the entire Holy Temple—were destroyed in this month, bringing mourning and sadness in its wake that has lasted for many generations. The almond, however, teaches us that the month’s message is not necessarily sad, but one of growth and blossoming.
It takes the almond 21 days from the time that it blossoms until the time it ripens, corresponding to the “Three Weeks” leading to Tisha B’Av. The nuts of Jeremiah’s prophecy start out as bitter and when ripen are sweet; they are called shekedim. The shell is always bitter, even for the sweet almonds. At times, our task in life is to unveil the sweetness and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. On an even deeper level, we are to “crack” or remove the negativity until the positivity—the G‑dly spark, the purpose for which it was created—is revealed.