Tonight marks the beginning of what is considered the saddest day on the Jewish Calendar, the ninth of the hebrew month of Av, or Tisha B’Av. The central idea is the rememberance of the destructions of both the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem. It symbolizes our greatest national calamity as a people. This has always been a weird day for me, for one, how do we mourn for an event that happened nearly 2000 years ago? Perhaps that is why we attach more recent events to this day, including expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust, even (for some) the disengagement from Gush Katif in Gaza.
We had a whole discussion over this topic this past Shabbat at my shul in comparing them to the way we would mourn for a loved one. For Tisha B’Av we ramp up the mourning and sadness, it doesn’t diminish, leading up to that solemn day.
For me, and this is no new idea, Tisha B’Av is a time to remember how much we’ve lost, and how much farther we must yet go.
Let me put it in stark terms. I have heard…many times…about how we, the jews, won over Hitler, Nazis, and the Holocaust and to that I would say, no, we didn’t win. Europe, especially eastern Europe, was once a great center of Torah learning. The greatest yeshivas and houses of learning existed in places like Poland and Lithuania, jewish communities which dated back for centuries existed there. How much of that remains now? Now you have Jewish Quarters in Europe that are essentially museums and tourist attractions guarded by blonde haired, blue eyed goyim. How many of them still have thriving jewish communities? That’s not to say there aren’t communities alive and well in Europe, but compare the numbers to pre-1932 and see the drastic drifference. Hitler had this idea of building a “Museum to the Extinct Race” where the oddities of jewish culture and faith would be on display for tourists to galk at…in some respects that is exactly what you have now. To this day I don’t know that we have fully recovered from that event, both from a population stand point or a religious or psychological one. There are jews, to this day, who will never buy Volkswagens because of their connection to those events.
But then there’s Israel, many would say, as evidence of how we were victorious in the end. Yes, I would agree that the birth of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, is hugely significant, especially considering it comes 3 year after the war. Yet…we are a year away from Israel’s 70th year of independence and how much more work is there left to be done? Forget, for a moment, our conflict with the Arab world. Internally there is disharmony. What does it mean to be a Jewish and Democratic state? What role does Torah and Judaism play in that nation? Who defines who is a “Jew”? To what extent do we function under western democratic rules of law? Can a democratic state function at all when religious authority is intertwined with government? How long does Israel look to aid from the US as American Jewery is vanishing as they face a threat to Jewish Identity that has been a rare problem in our history, acceptance and assimilation?
Which brings me back to the Temple Mount. There is no greater visual reminder that we lack full sovereignty than the absence of the Temple. Now, I’m not advocating we go up there with C-4 and take out the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque (even though that almost happened in the Six Day War), but that Jews can’t even pray on the most holiest site in our faith…how can you not feel that we, yet, have work to do? (And don’t give me this nonsense about the holiness of Har HaBayit and ritual cleanliness whatevers. We have historical record that jews were up there praying, that we gave that authority to the Waqf was all politics, not Torah)
At the end of the day…the solution is the opposite of why we lost the Temples in the first place. It’s common knowledge that the destruction of the Second Temple was due to hatred between jews, but (and I believe it was Rav Kook who said that but don’t quote me on this) the groundwork for the First Temple’s destruction came from divisions within Am Yisrael. Namely that after Solomon the kingdom split into two and true unity was lost, which would lead to the downfall of each.
So what is needed is unity which can only come through understanding, acceptance, tolerance. Which is easier said than done, of course, but we all serve a purpose in adding to the Creation, each Tribe had its own blessing. We are all brothers and sisters and it is on all of us to do our part to repair the world, or Tikkun Olam…but that starts with repairing ourselves, Tikkun Alai.
Let us mourn, let us remember, and then let us move forward into days of joy in the month of Elul and the High Holidays…let us, again, do the hard work of repairing ourselves…that we may see the day Tisha B’Av will be a day of joy for all of Am Yisrael.