On the Ninth of Av of the year 2449 from creation (1312
BCE), the generation of Jews who came out of Egypt under Moses' leadership 16 months earlier were condemned to die in the desert and the entry into the Land of Israel was delayed for 40 years.
As related in Numbers 14, when the Spies that Moses sent to the Land of Canaan returned with their disheartening report (see "Today in Jewish History"
for yesterday, Av 8), the people wept all night -- the night of Av 9th -- proclaiming that they'd rather return to Egypt than attempt to conquer and settle it; G-d decreed that the entire generation would wander in the desert for 40 years until the last of them died out, and that their children, under the leadership of Joshua, will enter the land He promised as Israel's heritage.
This is the first of five national tragedies that occurred on Av 9 listed by the Talmud (Taanit 4:6), due to which the day was designated as a fast day. The other four are: the destruction of the two Temples, the fall of Betar, and the plowing over of Jerusalem. (see below)
Both the first and second Holy Temples which stood in
Jerusalem were destroyed on Av 9: the First Temple by the Babylonians in the year 3338 from creation (423 BCE), and the second by the Romans in 3829 (69 CE).
The Temples' destruction represents the greatest tragedy in Jewish history, for it marks our descent into Galut--the state of physical exile and spiritual displacement in which
we still find ourselves today. Thus the Destruction is mourned as a tragedy that affects our lives today, 2,000 years later, no less than the very generation that experienced it first hand.
Yet the Ninth of Av is also a day of hope. The Talmud relates that Moshiach ("anointed one"--the Messiah), was born at the very moment that the Temple was set aflame and the Galut
began. [This is in keeping with the teachings of our sages that, "In every generation is born a descendent of Judah who is worthy to become Israel's Moshiach" (Bartinoro on Ruth); "When the time will come, G-d will reveal Himself to him and send him, and then the spirit of Moshiach, which is hidden and secreted on high, will be manifested in him" (Chattam Sofer).]
Betar, the last stronghold in the heroic Bar Kochba rebellion, fell to the Romans on the 9th of Av of the year 3893 (133 CE) after a three-year siege. 580,000 Jews died by starvation or the sword, including Bar Kochba, the leader of the rebellion.
Mourning the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel, (see "Today in Jewish History") we abstain from eating and drinking, bathing, the wearing of leather footwear, and marital relations--for the night and day of Av 9 (i.e., from sundown on Av 8 to nightfall on Av 9). It is customary to sit on the floor or a
low seat until after mid-day. Torah study is restricted to laws of mourning, passages describing the destruction of the Temple, and the like. The tefillin are worn only during the afternoon Minchah prayers. (For more laws and customs see link below.)
Once a month, as the moon waxes in the sky, we recite a special blessing called Kiddush Levanah, "the sanctification of the moon," praising the Creator for His wondrous work we call astronomy.
Kiddush Levanah is recited after nightfall, usually on Saturday night. The blessing is concluded with songs and dancing, because our nation is likened to the moon—as it waxes and wanes, so have we throughout history. When we bless the moon, we renew our trust that very soon, the light of G‑d's presence will fill all the earth and our people will be redeemed from exile.
Though Kiddush Levanah can be recited as early as three days after the moon's rebirth, the kabbalah tells us it is best to wait a full week, till the seventh of the month. When sanctifying the moon of the month of Av, it is customary to wait till the night after Tishah B'Av.
Once 15 days have passed, the moon begins to wane once more and the season for saying the blessing has passed.
There are three approaches to dealing with this world:
One is to remain aloof as the sun. The world will benefit from your light, but you will remain distant and removed. You will invest little in this world and so have little to lose.
Another approach is to wane and wax as the moon—to suffer the scars and bruises of life, delight in its offerings, thirst for its rewards, and tremble at its horrors—to invest everything and risk losing it all.
Or you could be both the sun and the moon at once. You could feel meaning and purpose in every episode of life, no matter how small. And, at the same time. remain above it all.
What is the secret? It is memory.
Even as you invest yourself in this world, remember you are not the body, but the soul.