This past Monday afternoon right before Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month Av and a fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples), I admittedly wasn’t connecting too much to the somber day we were entering. I had spent the last few weeks or so avoiding listening to live music, eating meat and drinking wine, going swimming, or doing anything overly exciting. At this moment, I had finished drinking an unhealthy amount of water, eating a large amount of food, and was ready for the final “dish” I would eat before 24 hours of fasting — an egg dipped in ashes — while sitting on the floor, as a sign of mourning.
I had been practicing this ritual for many years; but this year, it had a pretty significant impact on me. As soon as I dipped the egg in the ashes that my roommate prepared (I’m afraid to know exactly where he got them from) and my behind hit the floor, I experienced a mental transformation. Why am I sitting here on my floor eating an egg with ashes, I thought. The everyday items I generally concern myself with were swept away, and instead I began to ponder much more meaningful thoughts. Sitting on the floor with a mouthful of ashes made it an easy transition from thinking about [I’m embarrassed to admit what] to the purpose of existence, the purpose of us Jews, and what we’ve lost over the years.
One of the most common lines we hear on Tisha B’Av is that it is hard for us to feel bad about losing the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, because we were not around to experience it. That it is difficult to mourn what we lost when we personally never had it. That line is undoubtedly very true and applies to me, but I still take exception to it. By the same logic, we should find it hard to celebrate Chanukah, Purim, and Pesach because we weren’t around to enjoy our salvation by G-d from those who wished to destroy us, yet we don’t find it hard to participate in the rituals of those holidays. In fact, a cursory glance at the Jewish community during those time periods can easily prove that we do “feel” the celebration very much.
The difference is that mourning on Tisha B’Av is not fun. Not only is it not fun, but is difficult: fasting, avoiding greeting people, wearing uncomfortable shoes, sitting on the floor — these are all activities we prefer to avoid. Nevertheless, I think that one could “feel” the day and connect to its purpose more than the other celebratory days. During those occasions, we could get wrapped up in the happy rituals — eating delicious foods, going to fun parties, socializing, drinking, giving and receiving gifts — and it is easy to get by without realizing why we are celebrating. Who cares why? Celebration is fun!
On Tisha B’Av, the story is different. The activities are not inherently enjoyable and it gives us more of an impetus to ponder why we are mourning. What indeed have we lost with the destruction of the Temple? Why we are worse off now and what are we missing that we had back then?
The answer grew clearer to me this Tisha B’Av after watching a webcast by Rabbi Weinreb of the Orthodox Union. He very vividly went through various details of the Temple, from the physical structure to the rituals to the people who performed them. He used the power of visualization to make it clearer and tangible for those watching.
Once I began to relate to that time period, the answer to what we are missing became very clear to me and is something that is very relevant to today’s society.
Jews used to have unity. We used to respect our differences. We used to embrace diversity. We had arguments, we had differences of opinion, but we got along. To me, that is what we have lost and what is worth mourning and praying for. Mourning about a time when we all worked together and respected our leaders. Praying for a time when we will once again look at a fellow Jew as a brother or sister, and look past our superficial differences. In fact, bickering and judging each other is what many say led to the destruction of the Temple.
We still unfortunately see that happening more often than it should today. Instead of getting frustrated when it happens, perhaps we would benefit by remembering that this happened less during the “good old days.” That getting upset at another moves us away from that time period we are mourning for, and getting along with each other instead moves us closer to where we would like to get to: the rebuilding of the Temple and unity among Jews.
It is integral to our publication’s mission that people learn to respect each other’s differences and support them as fellow Jews.
Here’s hoping that this year we improve our relationships so we have less to mourn next year.
Hillel Goldschein, Publisher