Tisha B’Av is the most challenging day of the Jewish calendar, by far. In addition to the tragedies mentioned in the Talmud above, there are plenty of more recent tragedies as well (The start of The Spanish Inquisition; the start of World War I; the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust, etc.). The customs (really restrictions) of the three weeks intensify and we are left with a day of fasting and a level of mourning comparable to the level of mourning for a close relative.
On this, the saddest day of the Jewish year, we commemorate the loss of both Temples, as well as all the other tragedies that have occurred on this date, the 9th (‘tisha’) day of the Jewish month of Av.
On Tisha B’Av, eating and drinking, bathing, marital relations, and wearing leather shoes are all prohibited, as we are meant to feel like mourners. As important as the fasting and other restrictions are, the day should be a day of reflection and contemplation.
A student once asked, “The Temple was destroyed 2000 years ago, why should we still mourn it?” The answer is that we are not merely morning the loss of the building, but rather what it represents. If one
of our major goals during our lifetimes is to forge a relationship with God, then the loss of the Temple is a major setback, because the Temple afforded us the best opportunity to connect spiritually with God. Every tragedy that has befallen the Jewish people since the Temple was destroyed has had its origins in this loss.
The first Temple was destroyed by Nevuchadnetzer and the Babylonians in the year 465 BCE. The Second temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 69. Vespasian conquered much of Israel and surrounded Jerusalem, but when he was appointed the new Caesar, he assigned his son Titus to finish the job. Titus did so with great cruelty. According to the historian Josephus over one million Jews perished, a staggering number in the ancient world. The ‘Arch of Titus’ commemorates Titus’ defeat of Israel and still may be seen in Rome today. The Talmud tells us that that the first Temple was destroyed because the Jews violated the three cardinal sins of murder, idol worship, and adultery. The first Temple was rebuilt after 70 years. The second Temple was destroyed because of ‘baseless hatred’, and has not been rebuilt for close to 2000 years. Lest we point our fingers to the generation that experienced the destruction and think, “if only they could have gotten along a little better”, the Talmud tells us that if the Temple was not rebuilt in your generation, it would have been destroyed in your generation.
So where does that leave us? Every time we argue, resent people, hold grudges, and certainly when we ‘hate’ wide swaths of people because we disagree with them, we are actually contributing to the problem. Conversely, when we are like Aaron the High Priest, and “love peace and pursue peace”, (Pirkay Avot 1:12), we are rebuilding the Temple, Jerusalem Stone by Jerusalem Stone.