The fast day of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, is observed this year on July 26. It is the day we mourn the destruction of our holy Temples as well as other major calamities that befell the Jewish people.
Tisha B’Av is an odd type of fast day. On one hand, we are in mourning. On the other hand, the Talmud refers to the day as a Moed, a quasi-festival.
We can easily understand the mourning aspect of the day. After all, we are still in exile, and while we are now blessed to have the State of Israel, the terrorism it must confront, the BDS movement it must contend with, and the double standards placed upon it by the international community make it a far cry from the Messianic state we pray for. Just thinking about the three teenage boys murdered in cold blood just over a year ago reminds me all too well of why we mourn on Tisha B’Av.
The sages relate a parable about two neighbouring countries that would not allow the passage of goods through their respective borders. The only exception was for coffins carrying bodies for burial. In an attempt to circumvent the law, a group decided to hold a mock funeral and smuggle goods via a coffin. As they arrived at the border, the officer demanded they open the coffin so that he could verify its contents.
The group vehemently protested that this was unbecoming and would bring dishonour to the deceased. The officer was adamant, and when they realized they were about to be caught and punished for their transgression, they all started to cry.
“Had you been weeping like this when you were approaching the border in mourning over your deceased, I would not have been suspicious of you,” the officer remarked.
Far too often, we are slow to appreciate all that we have, all that we are, all that we can accomplish as a community, and relegate ourselves to mournful regret as to what could have been – if only. And, so, on Tisha B’Av, we mourn.
Yet, amidst the mourning, our sages have sensed some elements of joy, a reason to be optimistic about our future. What is it about the Jewish people that hope is found amidst the mourning?
Perhaps this story can shed some light. In 1967, after the Six Day War when the Jewish people reclaimed the Temple Mount, a father took his young son to the Western Wall for the first time. It was Tisha B’Av, and the youngster asked his father why all the men were weeping.
“Here,” said the father, “our Temple once stood. The Temple Mount on which it stood was surrounded by four large walls. Now the Temple is destroyed, as well as the walls around the Temple Mount. All we have left of all our sacred glory is this one wall, the Western Wall, where you see people praying. Is it any wonder that they cry when they remember what once stood here?”
“But Father,” the son responded, “isn’t it true that Mashiach will soon come to redeem us, rebuild the Temple and the four walls around the Temple Mount? Then we should take comfort in the fact that one of those walls is already standing, and there are only three more to go!”
It has been 2,000 years since the destruction of our Temple. I am here writing about it and you are here reading about it. Am Yisrael Chai!