Tisha B’ Av תשפ”א
Last Shabbat, July 10, was Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the month of Av. The Code of Jewish Law (551:1) teaches us:
א) משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה; ובר ישראל דאית ליה דינא בהדי כותי, לישתמיט מיניה דריע מזליה
1) When the month of Av enters, we must minimize our happiness, and a Jewish person who has a court case with a gentile should try to avoid it because the month of Av has a bad mazal.
Rosh Chodesh Av begins the mourning period called “The Nine Days,” and because of this, during these days it is customary not to eat meat or drink wine, except on Shabbat. The Nine Days are a countdown to the 9th of Av, the infamous day in our history called Tish-ah B’ Av, literally the 9th of Av. This year, the fast of Tish-ah B’ Av is observed starting Saturday night July 17th through Sunday night, July 18. The Mishna (Taanit 4:6) lists five calamitous events that occurred on Tish-ah B’Av.
בְּתִשְׁעָה בְאָב נִגְזַר עַל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ שֶׁלֹּא יִכָּנְסוּ לָאָרֶץ, וְחָרַב הַבַּיִת בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה וּבַשְּׁנִיָּה, וְנִלְכְּדָה בֵּיתָר, וְנֶחְרְשָׁה הָעִיר
- Hashem decreed that our forefathers could not enter Israel and would die in the desert.
- The first Holy Temple was destroyed
- The second Holy Temple was destroyed
- The city of Beitar was captured
- The site of the Holy Temples was plowed like a field
The notion of mourning for the loss of the Holy Temples is different than mourning for the loss of a close relative.
When a child loses a parent, for example, the child mourns the loss for an entire year. During the shiva, the seven days of intense mourning when one must stay home and people visit to pay their condolences, the purpose is to dwell on the deceased’s accomplishments and deeds to help us appreciate their importance. This is respectful to the deceased, for it cannot be that a person came to this world, lived an entire life, left the world, and yet life continues on as if he never existed. We must pause and contemplate the benefit the world had from the life that he lived. During the first 30 days after the passing, mourners may not shave or cut their hair. For the rest of the year, they may not listen to music or attend weddings, and a son must say the kaddish three times a day for his deceased parent. The purpose of all this mourning is to show honor and respect for the deceased parent. “You have done so much for me, and having lost you is such a blow to me, I cannot rejoice and carry on with my life as if nothing has happened.”
The purpose of mourning for the Holy Temples, on the other hand, is that by focusing on what we lost, we should yearn and aspire to have the Holy Temple back so that we can once again live the holy life that our forefathers did when the Temples stood. The mourning is designed to awaken within us a thirst for having Hashem dwell among us again so that we can strengthen and grow in our relationship with Him.
King David himself expresses in a Psalm how at one point in his life he was beginning to have doubts about Hashem. He says (73:2):
ב) וַאֲנִי כִּמְעַט נָטָיוּ רַגְלָי כְּאַיִן שֻׁפְּכוּ אֲשֻׁרָי
2) As for me, my feet almost veered off the path, in no time, my legs almost left Your path.
King David explains the issues that confronted him and shook his faith in Hashem. The evil people prosper and have no worries. They go through life and everything works out perfectly for them. King David uses a full 14 verses to describe how it seems that there is no Judge and no judgment for the evil people in the world. What saved King David? He tells us in verse 17.
יז) עַד אָבוֹא אֶל מִקְדְּשֵׁי קֵל אָבִינָה לְאַחֲרִיתָם
17) Until I come to the Sanctuary of Hashem, and I think about their end.
What was it about the sanctuary that restored King David’s faith? Because of the intense holiness there, when one entered the sanctuary, Hashem’s presence overwhelmed him, and he could have no doubt about His reality. The ten miracles that constantly went on there were also proof to Hashem’s presence. When the Holy Temple stood, there was a clear way to see Hashem. All you had to do was go to the Holy Temple.
Unfortunately, there are also those who dismiss the existence of Hashem for similar reasons to King David. They see evil people prosper and righteous people suffer, and the only conclusion to which they can come is that there is no god. Many others are just so caught up in their day-to-day existence trying to make ends meet, or trying to enjoy life’s pleasures, that they just never think about the existence of Hashem. “Don’t disturb me with that trivial issue, I am busy.”
Because we do not have the service of the Holy Temple, the prospect of a godless world seems feasible. But when the Temple would be in full service, it would be impossible to deny Hashem’s existence. In the times of King Solomon, the nations of the world would come to see the Holy Temple. There was no question that Hashem existed. It could be experienced first-hand in the Holy Temple. It could also be seen in the holy, elevated lifestyle that the Jewish people lived. Their lifestyle served as an example of the appropriate way that Hashem recommends His people to live their lives. Even today, Orthodox communities the world over are oases of charity and kindness to all members of the community. They are a paradigm of a community caring for each other, helping all in need.
There is also another aspect to the yearning for the Holy Temple, and that is to restore Hashem’s honor and glory. Hashem is the source of all blessing in the world. Nobody has anything in this world without Hashem deciding that he should have it; our health, our wealth and everything in between. Hashem provides us with so many luxuries. All the delicious fruits and vegetables that we enjoy. The variety of flavors, textures, shapes and colors, is simply dazzling. Does Hashem owe us anything that he makes life so enjoyable for us? Wouldn’t we be able to live without such a variety of foods to eat?
We owe Hashem everything, but what does He get? Ignored! So many people enjoy the blessings that Hashem has bestowed upon them and think that they are the source of their blessing. It is they, who, through their own wisdom and efforts, have created all that they have. Mention Hashem to them and they will laugh at you. “You still believe in that ancient stuff? Where exactly do you see Him? It’s all in your mind.” In 2021, there is no reason to believe in god. In today’s world, if you do believe in a creator, in a living G-d who is involved in every aspect of your life and the entire world, you are considered a fool. Belief in a creator is archaic and antiquated.
This is the greatest travesty in the world! Those of us who recognize and appreciate Hashem’s goodness, and who understand that He is the source of all of the world’s blessing, should feel the injustice of Hashem being ignored by so many. We should want the whole world to recognize Hashem for His goodness and show Hashem gratitude for all that He has done for them. It is inappropriate that Hashem be ignored like this!
There is another layer of depth to this. The Talmud (Brachot 3a) tells the following story.
תניא אמר רבי יוסי פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בדרך ונכנסתי לחורבה אחת מחורבות ירושלים להתפלל בא אליהו זכור לטוב ושמר לי על הפתח… ואמר לי בני מה קול שמעת בחורבה זו ואמרתי לו שמעתי בת קול שמנהמת כיונה ואומרת אוי לבנים שבעונותיהם החרבתי את ביתי ושרפתי את היכלי והגליתים לבין האומות ואמר לי חייך וחיי ראשך לא שעה זו בלבד אומרת כך אלא בכל יום ויום שלש פעמים אומרת כך
Rabbi Yossie said. Once when I was travelling, I entered a broken-down building to pray. Eliyahu the Prophet came and waited for me at the door… When I finished, he said to me, “My son, what voice did you hear when you were in that ruin?” I told him that I heard a heavenly voice crowing like a dove saying, “Woe to the children who because of their sins, I destroyed my house (the Holy Temple) and I burned my sanctuary, and I exiled my children among the nations of the world.” He then said to me, “I swear that it is not just now that Hashem says these laments, but every day, thrice daily, Hashem says this.”
We see that Hashem laments that He had to destroy the Holy Temples, and exile His children, dispersing them among the nations. He wishes to once again have the deep and close relationship that we had while the Temples stood. It is as if Hashem is in pain, the way parents would be when their child has left the house under difficult conditions. We are Hashem’s children, and He wants us back. And, as His children, we should also want to go back to our father’s home to once again receive His love and warmth.
The Sages use the metaphor of a king who had to send his son out of the palace to teach him a lesson. He sent him to live in the forest, hoping that he would see the folly of his ways, ask his father for forgiveness, and return to the palace. The king sent some of his men to keep an eye on the prince and to make sure he was okay. The most dreaded report that the king could receive from his men is that his son has forgotten that he came from the palace, that he has acclimated to life in the forest and feels completely at home there with no desire to ever return to his father.
In the same sense, if we are so lost and far removed from the Holy Temple that we don’t even have a desire to return to our Father’s house, this is the greatest blow to Hashem.
Eliyahu the Prophet told Rabbi Yossie one more thing.
ולא זו בלבד, אלא בשעה שישראל נכנסין לבתי כנסיות ולבתי מדרשות ועונין יהא שמיה הגדול מבורך הקדוש ברוך הוא מנענע ראשו ואומר אשרי המלך שמקלסין אותו בביתו כך
Not only that, but when the Jewish people enter their shuls and study halls, and answer to the Kaddish “May Hashem’s great name be blessed forever and ever” Hashem nods with His head and says, “How lucky is the king who is praised this way in his home.”
The refrain of the Kaddish is a request to Hashem to restore His kingdom to the world. He should bring the Mashiach immediately, and restore the Kingdom of David. When we say this with understanding and feeling, we are requesting to restore the close relationship that we had with Him again! This request on our part brings Hashem the greatest pleasure. All is not lost! They still remember me! They want to return to My home!
The Talmud (Shabbat 31b) takes this concept a step further.
אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו צפית לישועה דבר
Rava said (after a person leaves this world) when they bring him in for his judgment, they ask him, “Did you look forward to the final redemption?”
Rava is teaching us that it is our obligation to yearn and anticipate the coming of the Mashiach. When we pass away from this world and come upstairs for our judgment, they are going to ask us, “Did you yearn to return to your Father’s home?” Or did you get so comfortable in the forest that you forgot that you lived in the palace? Your Father was waiting for you to repent for your sin and return home.
This is what Tisha B’Av is about. Not so much about dwelling on the past and what was, but rather focusing on the future and what we want to happen. We want the Holy Temple back! We want Hashem to send the Mashiach who will restore the Kingdom of David, Hashem’s kingdom to the world. We want Hashem to be recognized by every single creature on the planet! He deserves it!
Maimonides sets this down as number 12 of his 13 principles of our faith.
יב – אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה. בְּבִיאַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיִּתְמַהְמֵהַּ. עִם כָּל זֶה אֲחַכֶּה לּוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם שֶׁיָּבוֹא:
12. I believe with complete belief in the Mashiach’s coming . And even though he tarries, nevertheless, I will wait for him with every coming day.
From the words of Maimonides it seems that the first thing I should ask when I wake up in the morning is, “Did he come yet? Is he here?”
There is a question on Maimonides. We understand why it is important to yearn for the Mashiach to come, as we have just explained. But why does this qualify as one of the principles of Judaism? What is lacking now in our service to Hashem without Mashiach?
The answer is that even though we want Hashem’s Kingdom recognized in the world, it is not for Hashem that we want that. Hashem needs no recognition from us, and all the praise and thanks that we give, add nothing to Him.
Hashem created this world so that He could give us pleasure. We earn the pleasure by creating a closeness to Him through learning His Torah and performing His mitzvot. Hashem does not want His kingdom restored so that He should be recognized and receive the attention due Him, rather He wants us to recognize Him so He can give us reward for recognizing Him! Connecting with Hashem makes us worthy of reward, and by rewarding us, Hashem is fulfilling His purpose for creating the world. We will receive this reward in the world to come.
To think that the world can continue as is, with the glory of Hashem trampled and ignored, is to accept that Hashem’s purpose for creating the world failed. It is entertaining the possibility that the world will never reach its perfection and that Hashem’s plan will never happen. Of course, this is impossible. Hashem’s plan will succeed no matter what. He will see to it that it comes to fruition. This is a principle of Judaism. Hashem’s plan will always succeed. Therefore, the coming of Mashiach is absolute. It cannot be any other way. There will come the day when all of humanity will recognize Hashem as the King of the universe. When this happens, Hashem will be able to fulfill His desire of rewarding them with the pleasure that He created them to have.
Let us resolve, on this Tisha B’Av, to yearn for Hashem’s glory to return to the world through the coming of Mashiach who will build the third Holy Temple. We can actualize the yearning by saying the refrain of the kaddish,
יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא יִתְבָּרַךְ:
May Hashem’s great name be blessed for ever and ever
with feeling and understanding. This brings great pleasure to Hashem that His children are seeking to return home to His love and closeness. If enough of us do this, we can be sure that we are doing our share to bring the Mashiach, hopefully, speedily in our days.