This month the Jewish people observed the 1,953rd Tisha b’Av fast day since the destruction of the Second Temple. Tisha b’Av commemorates the day the Romans invaded Jerusalem and set fire to the Beis HaMikdash, the Temple. Each year, we mourn its destruction as well as the fact the Messiah hasn’t come and the Temple hasn’t been rebuilt.
Until last week there had been 1,952 Tisha b’Avs since the destruction. Now it’s worse; it’s now 1,953 years and we still haveno Temple.
Depressing, isn’t it? And does one more year really matter that much?
No, and yes.
First, what our intense yearly national mourning day really says about us is that we are a people who embody hope. We remember what we had and we hope for the future. We see a present in which our national spirit has been dimmed and we’ve lost our focus and we look to a better time ahead. And if it’s been so long and we still haven’t gotten the Beis HaMikdash, then that’s all the more reason to look ahead, because God has promised that He will never forget us and we can be all the more certain that He’s already preparing for the Messiah and the Temple. And then we’ll regain our national spirit: that of a nation dedicated to Godliness, whose every act reflects our mission.
And second, because Tisha b’Av is also a personal experience in which each individual reminds themself of the kind of person they aspire to be — someone focused on the important things in life who doesn’t allow their aspirations to be pulled down by the constant hubbub of the mundane concerns that preoccupy us. And that is relevant to us now. We become changed by experiencing Tisha b’Av and thinking about its meaning.
“Who will ascend upon God’s mount, and who will stand in His Holy place?” (Psalms 24:3). The two phrases convey two distinct points. When there was a Temple, each Jew would travel there thrice yearly for the festivals to recharge their spiritual batteries and to experience God’s presence. And then there were also those special people who took that experience back home with them and who lived it through the rest of the year as well. Those were the people who not only traveled to the Temple mount during the festivals but also were transformed by the experience through the rest of the year.
So each year on Tisha b’Av, when we mourn over the Temple, we also remind ourselves who we are and what our real goals are. And if God still hasn’t seen fit to restore the Temple to us, then we’ll keep on hoping. And we’ll keep on thinking about our true aspirations, how we aspire to live a Godly life and one that reflects our essential nature as the people of the Beis HaMikdash. And we each become a better person by having thought about that. PJC
Rabbi Levi Langer is the dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.