The prayers and rituals reflect the tragedies of the past. So much calamity, so much suffering, so much pain.
We thought it was all over and that Zuriel Adamits was right to say, “The final curtain came down on the Exile with the Holocaust followed by the dawn of a new era in Jewish history”.
But memories of the past are again being evoked by the attempts to murder not only Jewish lives but Jewish hopes, and by the resurgent hostility that has caused a wave of antisemitism. It will take time and wisdom, but gam zeh ya’avor, this too will pass.
In this mood of hope, some find it strange that on Tishah B’Av afternoon, the traditional Nachem prayer does not acknowledge that Jerusalem has been rebuilt.
Despite some opposition, there have in fact been several attempts to reword the prayer. The best known is probably by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, whose version reads, “Comfort, O Lord, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Jerusalem, the city that is joyful and exultant, that is no longer despised, no longer desolate but honoured, with its children having returned to redeem it”.
The original text, as well as Rabbi Goren’s version, refers to God consuming and rebuilding the city with fire.
There is a Talmudic discussion about a person who lit a fire which spread from his own field to someone else’s. As he is duty-bound to make restitution for the damage, so, says the Talmud, God declares, “It is My duty to make restitution for the fire that I kindled” (Bava Kamma 60b; cf. Rashi on Ex. 22:5).
Another rabbinic passage says, “They sinned with fire, they were punished with fire, and they will be comforted with fire” (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 129a).
The sin with fire was idolatry (Jer. 7:18). The punishment with fire was the destruction of the Temple (Echah 1:13). The comfort with fire will be God as “a wall of fire round about” (Zech. 2:9).
The theology of this passage is not uncontroversial, but there is comfort in the promise that God will be a protecting wall, echoing the Psalmist’s words, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so is the Lord round about His people now and forever” (Psalm 125:2).