Making Tisha B’Av Relevant
How do we mourn what we do not know?
Tisha B’Av night we sit on the floor and read from the Book of Lamentations. In a mournful voice we chant “Alas, she sits in solitude! The city that was great with people has become like a widow. She weeps bitterly in the night and her tear is on her cheek.”
We grieve for our Temple that was destroyed. We recall a once golden Jerusalem that now sits in darkness, abandoned. The streets of the city run red with rivers of blood. Lamentations describes a glorious nation being led out in chains as the fires of destruction fill the air. We cry “for Mount Zion which lies desolate, foxes prowled over it.”
On Tisha B’Av we are asked to remember the destruction of our holy Temple nearly 2000 years ago. This is our national day of mourning. But it is difficult to feel loss for a Temple we never saw with our very own eyes. Can we feel the pain of exile today?
When the Western Wall became ours again in the 1967 battle for Jerusalem during the Six Day War, Israeli soldiers embraced the stones with their tears. It was an indescribable moment. But two soldiers stood back, somehow feeling distanced. They had not grown up with a connection or an understanding of the Wall. Suddenly, one soldier began to sob.
“Why are you crying?” his friend asked.
“I am crying for not feeling the need to cry.”
Grief eluded us. But today is different.
Many of us did not feel the need to cry for the destruction of our Temple in Jerusalem. We did not relate to the devastation, the sorrow and the pain of exile. Though we heard about the tragedies of Tisha B’Av throughout our history, grief eluded us.
But today is different.
It has been a difficult time for our nation. Three sweet souls were kidnapped, cruelly taken from their families and murdered. Missiles rain down upon our people as sirens pierce the air. Brave soldiers sacrifice their lives as mothers, fathers, siblings, young widows and children weep over freshly dug graves. Sophisticated tunnels are discovered, dug deep beneath the ground, to ambush and kill the innocent while the world turns its back on our plight. Anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head across the planet. Shards of glass cover the streets of Paris, shouts of ‘Yiddishe shvein’-‘Jewish swine’ are once again screamed in Berlin and I am reminded of childhood stories my parents and grandparents told me long ago. “Jews the End is Near” says graffiti in Rome. We are threatened, told to go back to the ovens, or into the sea. Meanwhile the world calls us Nazis as we battle for the very survival of the Jewish nation.
“She has no comforter from all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her, they have become her enemies…and they say: We have devoured her! Indeed, this is the day we longed for; we have actually seen it!” (Lamentations)
The Anguish of Exile
Mourning for our Temple means that we feel the solitude, the loneliness, the heartache of being a Jew in the world today. We have been scattered throughout the four corners of the earth and taken into exile. And though we may have settled in our countries, built homes and businesses, created synagogues and schools, we are spiritually homeless. We lack the Bais Hamikdash, the holy Temple where the presence of God was seen and manifested clearly for the entire world to witness.
In the times of the Temple, prophets walked the streets of Israel. We experienced miracles. Jews came together to Jerusalem, celebrated the holidays and spiritually reconnected. The nations recognized our clear relationship with God. Each time we entered this holy place we knew that we were standing in God’s home. Every stone spoke to our soul. We encountered holiness. The Temple Mount was the channel through which prayers from the ends of the world would ascend above. There was a tangible emotion of meeting heaven on earth despite the physical limitations. We felt sheltered; protected by our Father.
And though today we are blessed with our land and can caress the Western Wall, a holy remnant of our Temple in Jerusalem, we are still experiencing the trauma of Jewish exile. Unless we take time to ponder we fail to perceive God’s obvious plan or sense His enduring love. We lack vision and do not see clearly. We are frightened. We feel vulnerable. Though we are part of the world we have been cast as ‘Zionists’ and ‘Jews,’ isolated and embargoed.
Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild.
On Tisha B’Av we were expelled from our Father’s home. It is not just the holy Temple that we mourn. We grieve for ourselves, for our people, for our mighty connection to all that was sacred and now lost. If we want to experience a true Tisha B’Av we begin by understanding the tragedy of exile that has distanced us from our God until today.
Once we comprehend the true meaning of Tisha B’Av we can begin our path toward restoration. The point of the day is not to wallow in pointless grief or melancholy. Judaism guides us to always live with a sense of purpose. Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild. Replace destructive emotions with constructive actions. Resolve that today will bring us opportunity to realize our spiritual potential.
What can we do?
1. Boundless Love
During the Second Temple, our strength laid in our unity. When we descended into petty bickering, malicious gossip and animosity, we lost our Divine protection. The Chofetz Chaim writes: “If these sins had the power to cause a standing edifice to be destroyed, then certainly their continued presence among the Jewish people will prevent a new Temple from being rebuilt. We have no choice but to strengthen our efforts to correct this sin…for how long are we to remain in exile?”
Do not allow this time to pass you by. If someone you know is feeling pain, imagine what it is like to live in their shoes. Ask yourself: what can I do to make this better? Even a daily call, an encouraging card, an offer to do an errand would help alleviate the burden. Don’t underestimate the power of one. Just as one painful word may destroy, all it takes is one kind word to rebuild. Stop yourself from spreading gossip, sarcastic put downs or senseless fighting. Feel the pain of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Pray each day for our soldiers. Ask God to watch over our boys and guard them well. We must show God that we are once again His united children.
2. Spiritual Connection
Though our Temple was destroyed, our connection to God has endured the centuries through the study of Torah. We have survived inquisitions, pogroms, crusades and holocausts because we remained faithful Jews. Today many of us have grown spiritually disconnected. And even if we have the knowledge, often the passion for Judaism is lost. Reclaim the joy of mitzvot and begin the spiritual reconstruction that is required for us to rebuild our nation. God has granted us the gift of Torah so that no matter where we find ourselves, we can restore our souls. This is our hope for the future; the key to the end of our exile.
3. Mourn for Jerusalem
Do we really feel the void that exile has brought? Do we ever stop and think about the destruction of God’s home? When we stand under the chuppah we break a glass to remember Jerusalem. When building or renovating a home, we leave a small area unfinished to recall the destruction of our Temple. In our greatest moments of joy we are compelled to realize that our happiness is incomplete. How can we celebrate a house when God’s home has been burned?
Let us take a moment and mourn. Let us recall the Temple that once stood in all its glory. Search deep inside and yearn for the Divine connection that sheltered us. Shed a tear today for our nation and all that we have lost.