‘Here comes the sun…’ The Beatles’ lyric played around in my head on the day that the sun finally appeared after the long, cold, harsh winter. Of course, this being England, the sun will come and go… But at least, we have felt the warm glow of the sun’s rays on our faces and seen the landscape bathed in light.
Interestingly, the calendar of the Jewish festivals set out in the Torah (see, e.g. Leviticus chapter 23) does not include any commemorative dates during, either, the winter or the summer. The first festival is Pesach in the spring and the last is the late harvest feast of Sukkot in the autumn. Meanwhile: between Shavuot, in the late spring/early summer, when our ancestors rejoiced over their bikkurim, ‘first fruits’, and Yom T’ru’ah, the ‘day of blasting’ on the first day of the month of Tishri, there were no festive days.
For those who have spent time in Israel, it is easy to work out why our ancestors did not celebrate festivals during the summer when the land is baked dry. Ha-shemesh – the sun – is a blessing – but it can also be a curse. Even in this green and pleasant land, we have discovered this, in recent years, when the winter and spring rains have not come, and the southern counties of England, in particular, have suffered drought.
Significantly, the catastrophe of the siege and then destruction of Jerusalem and King Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE resulted in the addition of new dates to the Jewish calendar in the winter and summer. And so, on the 10th of Tevet, in the midst of winter, the calendar marks the start of the Babylonian siege of the city, on the 17th of Tammuz at the height of summer, the breaching of the city walls, and then, three weeks later, the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem on the 9th of Av – Tishah B’Av. The biblical Book of Lamentations – Eichah – recalls the intense suffering of those last weeks. Of course, that was a long, long time ago. But then, the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE at Tishah B’Av, and that date has also spelt other miseries – including, the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492. And in our own time, the world as a whole has witnessed deeds of devastating destruction in the summer heat around Tishah B’Av: the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th 1945.
Our Erev Tishah B’Av service on July 15th will give us an opportunity to remember the burning underside of summer time. In the meantime, another lyric comes to mind: ‘Summer time and the living is easy…’ The context of that song – the slave system in 19th century North America – reminds us that, of course, the summer is a time to appreciate the gifts of life, even in complex circumstances. So: may we all enjoy the summer and the blessings of the sun! Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah