Oz Torah – Ask the Rabbi: God as the enemy – Tishah B’Av


The fast of Tishah B’Av is the culmination of the Three Weeks, which are known as “Bein Ham’tzarim” – “Between the Straits”.

This is based on a verse from Echah 1:3, “All her (Israel’s) pursuers caught her between the straits“.

One view is that the verse is metaphorical and indicates, “The Jewish people were in desperate straits“.

Credit: Chabad.

The Arugat HaBosem carries out a count and finds that the letters of the verse, “kol rod’fehah hisiguhah bein ham’tzarim”, have the same numerical value as “heimah chaf-aleph yamim miyud-zayin b’Tammuz ad Tishah B’Av” – “these are the 21 days from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av”.

The Midrash Echah Rabbati recalls the blossoming almond-twig that Jeremiah saw and says that it takes 21 days for the blossoms to turn into almonds.

In other words, the pain caused by the enemy worsened from day to day until it reached its peak (or nadir) on 9 Av.


The Book of Lamentations (Echah) 2:5 says, “God has become an enemy“.

It reminds us of the beginning of Psalm 22 which asks, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken us?

Feeling that events too horrific to handle have blackened our lives, we fear that even God has let us down and we cannot see any support or relief coming from Him.

We can’t possibly understand or explain how bereft and abandoned God has made us feel.

Do we realise how bad He Himself must feel when some of His children have defied Him so cruelly whilst others think He doesn’t care about them anymore?

There is a time when He can only help us if we try to help Him.

No wonder Etty Hillesum, about to be deported from Amsterdam in July 1942, said, “I shall try to help You, God, to stop my strength ebbing away. We have to safeguard the little piece of You, God, in ourselves. We must help You and defend Your dwelling-place inside us to the last…”


There are five chapters in M’gillat Echah, the Book of Lamentations read on Tishah B’Av.  Tradition ascribes these chapters to the prophet Jeremiah.

When you read the book you see how the poet’s style changes.

The first chapter is searing but simple; and only as the book progresses does the author use more complicated language.

The explanation might be tied up with the impact of the events of the destruction.

At first the author is almost struck dumb at what has happened. He can hardly do more than, in effect, to say, “Woe is me! Woe is me! Veh iz mir! Veh iz mir!”

Like Jeremiah, all we want to do, all we can do, at first is simply to weep.

Time allows us to look for words and to speak through the midst of our tears.

It is not (despite the common saying) that time is a great healer – it isn’t, and the trauma never goes away, but what happens is that we begin to get used to the pain.


Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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