The Slonimer Rebbe explains that we usually speak of four cardinal exiles throughout Jewish history – Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome. Why, he and others ask, is the exile of Egypt, usually referred to as the archetype of all exiles, not counted among these? He answers by bringing a Midrash that interprets the second verse of the Torah to allude to the future exiles: “and the earth was chaos (this is Babylonia) and void (this is Persia) and darkness (this is Greece) was on the face of the deep (this is Rome)” (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4). He explains that the idea of exile and redemption is encoded within the very fiber of creation. This is seen in the cycles of nature that go from the “death” and “exile” of winter to the rebirth and “redemption” of spring; of darkness and light, death and life, psychological slavery and freedom.
He explains that the exile of Egypt is not included in the other exiles, because unlike the other exiles, which were caused by our actions, the exile of Egypt was beyond the mechanics of cause and effect and was rather an essential process that the Jewish people had to go through in order to become a people worthy of receiving the Torah and being a light unto the nations. All subsequent exiles, though present in creation from the very beginning, could have been averted through rising above the bounds of nature, which the Jewish people have an innate ability to do. All our prophets in fact taught that exile and destruction were not inevitable and extolled us to change our ways and thus avert disaster. The exile in Egypt was not a case of cause and effect, rather the destined “womb” of our becoming a holy people, connected to the very creative dynamic of the universe.
From the above explanation we can now understand how these days of collective memory of Jewish history and its seemingly endless cycles of exile and redemption are intrinsic to ending one year and beginning another. The nine days of Av, culmination in the fast of Tisha B’Av are compared to the nine months of pregnancy and the birth pangs that accompany bringing new life into the world. The 22 days of mourning during the “Three Weeks” are the darkness, not just preceding the light, but essential to actually activating the light of the High Holy days to come.
A beautiful allusion to this is found in the continuation of the second verse of the Torah brought above: “and the earth was chaos and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved upon the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Our Sages taught that the “spirit of God” referred to is the soul of the Messiah (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4). In other words, just like exile is encoded in creation, so too is redemption. In fact, the next verse in the Torah describes the creation of light.
We are taught by the Sages that according to the suffering – so is the reward (Pirkei Avot 5:26). They also taught that those who truly mourn for the destruction of the Temple, symbolizing the collective pain and suffering of the entire world, they will merit to see the Temple rebuilt. Therefore our tradition teaches that the Messiah is born on Tisha B’Av, emphasizing the mysterious and essential connection between exile and redemption and the secret of our mission in the world.