Av Harachamim

February 26, 2013

After Yekum Purkan, it is customary to recite the tefillah of Av Harachamim (Father of Compassion).  Av Harachamim was written around the year 1096, in response to the First Crusade. Originally it was only recited the Shabbat before Shavuot. Later it became popular to recite it every Shabbat unless an additional ritual celebration takes place, such as Blessing the New Moon, an Auf Ruf celebration, or a Bris (Circumcision). However, if the events occur during the Sefira period, which is the actual period that the crusade occurred, Av Harachamim is still recited.

It is important to note that at every joyous Jewish occasion we reflect on our nation’s history, both the tragic and the glorious, the blood stained and/or heroic. It has been a long and arduous exile with too many casualties along the way. In Av Harachamim we honor the men, women and children who preceded us and paved the way for our existence and survival.  A Chattan (groom) breaks a glass and dons ashes upon his forehead under a chuppah, we say Yizkor on all the major festivals; we devote nearly a month each summer to remembering what Zion was and what she will be. Napoleon once declared, “A nation that mourns the destruction of its empire from thousands of years ago will certainly see its eventual rebuilding.” Napolean was of course quoting the Talmud without realizing it. In Taanit  it states, “Mi She Mitabel Al Yerushalayim Zocheh Veroaeh et Yehuasa,”  (He who mourns the Churban will merit to see its rebuilding).

In addition to mourning those who perished while sanctifying G-d’s name, reciting Av Harachamim bolsters our hope and faith that the G-d of Israel is just, and rewards as well as punishes those who deserve it. The Midrash reveals that each time a Jew is tormented and killed for simply being Jewish, God douses His own Divine Cloak with a measure of blood to match (so to speak). When God metes out retribution to our enemies, He will wear this holy cloak. The Yefat Toar explains the Midrash to mean that every Jewish soul is dear to our Father in Heaven and that each and every soul will be remembered and defended.

As Jews, we know that we are only as great as our history. From the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to the prophets, judges and Men of the Great Assembly, from the Gaonim, Maimonides, Rashi, and all the great leaders and souls until today, we continue carrying the torch that they lit and carried for so many generations. Before we recite the communal Mussaf offering prayer, we reflect on the holy Jewish martyrs who gave their lives for us to be able to daven in shul today.

Take Home Tip – As we recite our tefillot, have in mind that we are linking to millions of others that are no longer here in prayer. They recited the same tefillot, perhaps chanting the same melodies to our compassionate Father in Heaven. We should also hope and pray that our children and grandchildren will maintain that eternal connection throughout the generations.