This Shabbos is officially Tisha B’av (the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av). It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, a day of Jewish national tragedy throughout the ages. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears. Since Shabbos is a day of joy, this year, we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Yud B’Av (the tenth of Av), this Sunday.
It is the day that our nation cried and continues to cry throughout the ages.
We have observed three weeks of increased mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and intensified during the last nine days. During this communal mourning period, we do not host weddings and other parties, we do not cut our hair or wear new clothes. During the nine days from the first until the ninth of Av, we do not eat meat or drink wine (except on Shabbos).
The restrictions on Tisha B’Av reflect the culmination of this sad time and mimic those of Yom Kippur. On this day, we do not eat, drink, wash, bathe, shave or wear cosmetics. We do not wear leather shoes, engage in sexual relations or engage in Torah study. We sit on low chairs and our customs are similar to those in mourning for a loved one. Our demeanor should reflect the serious and tragic nature of this day. People with a serious medical condition may be permitted to drink and/or eat and should consult a rabbinic authority for guidance.
The calamities of Tisha B’Av began on this date in 1313 BCE. The Jews had experienced the miraculous exodus from Egypt and were preparing to enter Israel from their long journey in the desert. They sent twelve elite spies representing each of the twelve tribes to scout out the land in preparation for its conquest. Ten of the spies returned with a negative report, reporting that Israel was filled with giant inhabitants and that the land was impossible to conquer. Only Caleb and Joshua, two of the ten tribes, spoke of the true beauty and blessing of the land of Israel.
On the night of the ninth of Av, the Jewish nation cried and complained, listening only to the negative report and not heeding the words of Caleb and Joshua. G-d was displeased that the nation who had experienced open miracles and blessings were so pessimistic and unsure of G-d’s protection. G-d announced on that fateful night that the nation cried for no reason and that this day would be one set aside for punishment, tears and tragedy throughout the ages.
And so it has been.
And so we continue to cry as a nation.
On this devastating date of Tisha B’Av, we have experienced the following terrible tragedies:
The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE
The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE
The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.
Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.
On this ominous date, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.
Germany entered World War I in 1914
SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.
In 1942, the Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto.
We cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and the void left by the destruction of the Jewish Temples almost 2000 years ago. Our tears are for the majesty that was lost and for the light of the connection to G-d that was unparalleled during that time. We cry over what we had and what we have lost.
And, we hope that our sadness on this terrible day will be replaced with rejoicing.
Four of our greatest sages, Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva, were walking in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. They saw a fox running among the ruins of the Holy of Holies of the Holy Temple. The Rabbis began to cry at this sight of the utter devastation of the innermost sanctuary of our precious temple. Rabbi Akiva began to laugh.
Rabbi Akiva’s contemporaries asked him why he was laughing. He asked them why they were crying. They were incredulous and answered, “The place about which it is written, ‘any person who is not a Cohen (holy priest) who approaches shall die,’ now has foxes running about. Why should we not cry?”
The gold standard of optimism and true belief, Rabbi Akiva, retorted. “That is precisely why I am laughing. The joyous prophecy of Zechariah is contingent upon the sad prophecy of Uriah. Uriah’s prophecy was that ‘Zion shall be plowed like a field.’ Zechariah’s prophecy was that ‘The old men and women will return and sit in the streets of Jerusalem…’ I see that the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled, and now I know with certainty that the prophecy of Zechariah will come to fruition…”
The three sages answered, “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”
Tisha B’Av has been a day of tears in the past and we pray that it will be turned into a day of comfort and rejoicing in the future. May our tears be joined with the laughter of Rabbi Akiva’s clarity of our fate and faith. We must understand all that we have lost and cry tears of understanding for the enormity of the void left by these losses. Only then, will we be granted the merit to witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple with unity and joy.
May the future commemoration of Tisha B’av be the day of shedding no more tears, the day that our nation laughs and rejoices.