“As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamor, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it: and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard about it.” So writes Josephus about that fateful day on the Ninth of Av as the smoke from the Holy Temple ascended to the heavens like the smoke from an obscene sacrifice, taking our people’s dreams with it.
Our Sages designated Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) as a day of communal mourning, not only in remembrance of the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem but also all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout our history.
WHY DO WE OBSERVE TISHA B’AV?
The classical Rabbinic interpretation for the destruction of both Holy Temples was baseless hatred. The Talmud (Gittin 55b) recounts a famous story of mistaken identity involving a man who had a friend named Kamtza, and also an enemy named Bar Kamtza. One night, the man threw a feast and sent his servant to invite his friend Kamtza. Instead, the servant mistakenly brought the host’s enemy, Bar Kamtza. The host resolved to throw Bar Kamtza out of the feast, but Bar Kamtza offered to pay for his meal, then half the cost of the entire feast, and eventually he offered to pay for the full cost of the feast. Each time, the host rebuked Bar Kamtza’s offers. The host then threw bar Kamtza out of the party, while the sages gathered at the feast sat idly by and did not intervene.
I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but it involves revenge, a blemished sacrifice, and a war between occupying Roman forces and the Jewish people.
HOW DO WE OBSERVE TISHA B’AV?
Tisha B’Av is a full fast day, beginning Erev Tisha B’Av with Seudat Hamafseket, the traditional meal of separation. We cover the ark with a curtain, turn the lights down low, and sit on the floor, mourning our losses, as we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations). The haunting melody with its sense of despair and longing, brings the text alive with feeling.
Several restrictions come with the nine days leading up to and including Tisha B’Av. These are typical Jewish mourning procedures: we don’t wear leather, we don’t shave or cut our hair. We don’t eat meat, and we don’t engage in the leisurely activities pursuits that usually bring us joy.
WHAT CAN TISHA B’AV TEACH US?
The idea that one ungracious host, hardened by hatred, could spurn the Temple’s destruction is a powerful one. There is a saying, Kol Yisrael aravim zeh la-zeh, all of Israel is responsible for one another. Each of us has the responsibility of treating each other with respect, and our tradition teaches that it is only when our people can love each other will the messiah come, and the Temple rebuilt.
Our Sages teach us that Hashem allowed the destruction of the Holy Temples because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. The cracks in the ancient stones run deep, but we can mend our society’s cracks with Ahavat Chinam, unconditional love. Only with unconditional love will we be able to usher in the Messianic era. Jerusalem is more than just a city. It is a city whose stones have been carved by centuries of tears. It is where the literal foundation stone of the world is located, and it is the place where Avraham showed the ultimate loyalty to God. Let us continue to pray for her and the reunification of our people, and our return to Zion, may it be God’s Will, speedily in our days.
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