The Hebrew month of Av is often considered a month of tragedy, since it is on the 9th that the Holy Temple was destroyed, as well as other disasters. However, in Av, we have the opportunity to focus not only on the destruction of the Holy Temple, but on the time it will be rebuilt. It is written (in the Haftorah read on the Shabbbat before Tisha b'Av) about the Redemption that "Zion will be redeemed in the trial by those who return with righteousness, and the captives will be released from captivity." (Isaiah 1:27) Among the many gifts given to the Jewish nation are the two inheritances referred to in this verse; first, the power to pursue righteousness and to make trials, and, second, the ability to perform acts of kindness and mercy. These seem like opposite qualities, but according to Chasidut, they are very closely linked.

The aspects of loving-kindness (chesed) and mercy can come down to us through the pursuit of righteousness and trials. For example, it is only when a person makes a fair trial of his own character and behavior that he is able to show true kindness, otherwise he lacks the awareness necessary for true chesed. Occupation with the Torah is also called "mishpat", or "trial", and learning Torah also brings chesed into the world. We can also see clearly how mercy is drawn into the world through righteousness when it is understood that the 13 Attributes of Mercy, revealed on Yom Kippur, are a culmination of the Ten Days of Repentance and the trial begun on Rosh Hashanah. These 13 Attributes of Mercy arrive through with the completion of the judgment, the means by which mercy reaches us. Above this level of mercy is Supreme Chesed revealed on Sukkot, the time which is the culmination of both the Ten days of Repentance and the trial completed on Yom Kippur. Supreme Chesed will be brought into the world by "those who return with righteousness", and when "the captives will be released from captivity", the extreme descent of exile will be transformed into the highest ascent through G‑d's loving-kindness and mercy .

…one can see how judgment is transformed into redemption….

Similarly, in the Book of Lamentations read on Tisha B'Av, one can see how judgment is transformed into redemption. For example, a verse in Lamentations - "G‑d, in his anger, shamed fair Zion" - sounds like it is referring to harsh punishment. The Hebrew word for "shame", "yaiv", brings to mind a thick cloud of negative energy. Clouds are also associated with the word "av", since thick clouds of rain are called "avim". Thick clouds also represent kelipa, concealment of G‑dliness.

However, clouds also have positive associations, just as the curses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy have the potential to become blessings. Moses could not enter the Sanctuary because a cloud settled on top of it. On the day the Torah was given, there was so much smoke and so many clouds that the Jewish People could not approach the mountain further. In one verse, the flight of angels is compared to thick clouds in the sky. "Mi eleh" ("Who are they") is said in connection with the angels. "Mi", or "who", expresses the aspect of concealment; "eleh", or "these", expresses revelation. The connection between the two opposite concepts comes from a higher level than both of them, but the basic idea is that the clouds function as a concealment, which will eventually be lifted in the time of revelation.

The external aspect of the Ten Commandments is revealed in the physical world, and the internal aspect is revealed in the higher worlds….

There is also a connection between the words "yaiv" and "eicha", the Hebrew title for the Book of Lamentations, which expresses the potential for redemption through progressive repentance. "Eicha" is spelled with the Hebrew letters alef and yud, and kaf and hei. The yud of "Eicha" corresponds to the number ten (in that ten is its numerical value), standing for the Ten Commandments. On this level, the Ten Commandments are engraved inside out, since the external aspect of the Ten Commandments is revealed in the physical world, and the internal aspect is revealed in the higher worlds. The yud is also associated with the ten sefirot and the way they are rooted in the Infinite Light of G‑d. The alef (with a numerical value of one) of the word "Eicha" is above the ten sefirot and is part of the essence of G‑d. Kaf expresses the quality of kingship.

How are all of these elements represented by the letters connected? The alef-yud combination and the kaf-hei are connected through "yaiv", the thick cloud, and "av". Even though "yaiv" and "av" are associated with descent and kelipa, the concealment has a significant role to play. Zion had to descend in order to clothe itself in the kelipa as a first step toward repentance. It is only through this process that the lower elements can be refined. Av, for instance, represents a sin done intentionally. When the "av" is elevated through repentance, the sins are transformed into merits. Repentance also balances the gevura in the verse, "G‑d, in his anger, shamed fair ('yaiv') Zion", because the repentance sweetens the aspect of strict justice and assuages anger.

The zeal of the return can reflect the severity of the fall….

Throughout Lamentations (Eicha), we can view the harsh judgments as opportunities to rise to higher spiritual levels through repentance. One verse reads, "G‑d has cast down from Heaven to Earth the majesty of Israel." According to Rashi, this was done suddenly and in an extreme way, casting down from the highest level to the lowest. Chassidut explains that the advantage of this extreme and rapid descent was that it brought the service of repentance to the lowest world, the word of action (Asiya), where it can be available to everyone, even to those who seem to lack hope. The zeal of the return can reflect the severity of the fall, by leaps and bounds upward rather than merely step by step.

Adapted from Sefer HaMaamarim, 5734-5735, p. 189

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