Mourning the Destruction of the Temple
On all the fast days but Tisha B’av the daily prayers are
enhanced with vidui and selichos, for the theme of the day is
teshuvah. On Tisha B’av there is no vidui and there’s no selichos
(the kinos are not selichos). Tisha B’av is the most severe of all
the fast days commemorating the destruction of the Temple, but it’s not a day
of teshuvah. It’s a day of mourning and it’s a moed: a day on which
we come face to face with G-d. On Tisha B’av we remember the Temple and stand
before G-d in that terrible moment of its destruction.
Mourning is a statement that something is terribly wrong, so
wrong that we can’t go on with life as usual, we cannot live our normal lives.
Since the destruction of the Temple, life has never been normal, but we’ve
gotten so used to it, that Jewish life without the Temple has come to seem
normal. We’ve fallen asleep and lost our awareness of what we’ve lost. In
much the same way, the Jewish people once fell asleep and lost their awareness
of what they had. G-d awakened them in the only way a person can be roused from
a really deep sleep: With a shock. We relive that shock every year as we fast
and sit on the floor, mourning the Temple on Tisha B’av.
But it’s hard to mourn on Tisha B’av. The destruction of
the Temple was a destruction of spiritual life. We have become too focussed in
the material world and relatively insensitive to spiritual life. So it’s hard
for us to sense the value of what we’ve lost. It’s hard for us to sense what
it would be like if the Temple were standing and that spiritual life were
restored. The Mikdosh shel Ma’alah is still there, waiting to descend.
Even the Mikdosh shel Matah was not entirely destroyed. It lies, were are
told, underground, put away for safe keeping, waiting for the right moment to
emerge. If it hasn’t emerged in our generation, and if the Mikdosh shel Ma’alah
hasn’t descended into it and sanctified it with the Presence of G-d, it’s
only because we are not worthy. We are so benumbed to spiritual life that we
find it hard to feel that something is drastically wrong, to feel that we really
need the Temple, to yearn with all our hearts to see the Temple restored.
Once a year we try to break out of our indifference and make
ourselves more sensitive to our loss. Fasting and afflicting ourselves, sitting
on the floor and mourning, we turn away from our material satisfactions and
awaken ourselves to the spiritual life which is our authentic heritage.
Chazal tell us that whoever mourns the destruction of
Jerusalem will merit to behold the rejoicing of Jerusalem. As our mourning
subdues the principle of that destruction, it rebuilds the Temple in our hearts.
Tisha B’av is not a day of teshuvah, but it is the beginning
of teshuvah. For it’s only the shock of our mourning on Tisha B’av that can
make us capable of the deeper teshuvah that can bring the Temple back. Without
that mourning we could not discover the spiritual desire which only G-d’s
Presence in the Temple can fulfill. In his sefer, Beis Elokim, the Mabit
points out that in the Torah, one fast day a year (Yom Kippur) was sufficient
for teshuvah. That was all we needed until our insensitivity to spirituality
became so great that it brought about the destruction of the Temple and exile of
the Jewish people. From that time, Yom Kippur was no longer enough. We needed
another day – Tisha B’av. Tisha B’av prepares us for Yom Kippur.
There are 21 days between the seventeenth of Tamuz and Tisha
B’av, there are 21 days from Tisha B’av to Rosh Chodesh Elul and 21 days from
Rosh Hashanah to Hoshanah Rabbah. Twenty one days is three whole weeks. Seven
days represents perfection. Three times that represents an established and
persistent perfection. For the generations that live after the destruction of
the Temple, the perfection of spirit has become a process that leads from Tisha
B’av to Yom Kippur and from Yom Kippur to Simchas Torah. Mourning the
destruction of the Temple on Tisha B’av, we reject the materialism that
destroyed it and reach out for a renewed vision of G-d’s Presence. Rejoicing
in the Torah on Simchas Torah, we give our hearts wholly to G-d and declare our
delight in discovering that, through His Torah, His Presence is still among us.
Our deepest rejoicing emerges from our day of deepest mourning. The process
actually begins on the seventeenth of Tamuz, as the issue of the Temple and its
terrible destruction moves gradually into the center of our religious life. The
seventeenth of Tamuz, Rosh Chodesh Av, the week of Tisha B’av and erev Tisha
B’av are all stations in a process that lifts us into the sensitivity that
enables us to truly mourn on Tisha B’av.