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Why We Mourn

Why We Mourn


The fast of Tisha b'Av, the saddest date on the Jewish calendar, is the day which saw the destruction of both Holy Temples, as well as many other tragic events throughout our nation's tear-soaked galut (exile). A mournful mood is carefully created. We read Jeremiah's Book of Lamentations and a lengthy collection of elegies which vividly describe all these tragedies, and throughout the day we follow many mourning practices.

Tisha b'Av is our national day of mourning when we pause to reflect on all the pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and holocausts which have dogged our nation for the past 2,000 years. Nonetheless it is specifically observed on the date when the Holy Temples were destroyed, and the Temples are the principal focus of this day's mourning. It is clear that our suffering is intimately associated with the absence of the Temple.

It is clear that our suffering is intimately associated with the absence of the TempleWhat is the connection? And why the obsession over an ancient Jerusalemite structure? Does the lack of a Holy Temple leave any of us feeling a gaping hole in our lives?

The Talmud declares (Brachot 3a): When Jews enter their prayer and study halls and proclaim, "May His great name be blessed," the Holy One, blessed be He, nods and says, "Fortunate is the king who is thus praised in his home. What is there for a father who has exiled his son? And woe to children who have been exiled from their father's table!"

This brief statement captures the very essence of galut.

Parent-child relationships share many of the qualities which typify all relationships — though perhaps to a greater degree: respect, love, care, etc. There is, however, an essential difference. Other relationships are predicated on these abovementioned feelings: because I like you and care for you, therefore we are friends. In the parent-child relationship the opposite is true; these feelings are predicated on the relationship: because I am your parent/child, therefore I love you.

Thus the parent-child relationship possesses two aspects; its essence and its manifestations. Its core is the essential relationship which is immutable and not even subject to fluctuations. No matter what, a parent always remains a parent, and one's child remains one's child. In a normal and healthy parent-child relationship, this core soul-connection expresses itself in the form of love, care, and mutual respect.

G‑d is our father, and we are His children. And during galut we constitute a dysfunctional family. We have been expelled from our Father's home. Our relationship has been reduced to its very core. All the perceptible traces of the relationship have vanished. We don't feel or see G‑d's love for us, and we don't really feel like His children. We study His Torah and follow His commandments, and we are told that by doing so we connect with Him, but we don't feel like we are in a relationship.

This is certainly not the way the relationship should be, and this wasn't always the case. There was a time when we were coddled by our Father's embrace. His love for us manifested itself in many forms: miracles, prophets, abundant blessings and a land flowing with milk and honey. And at the crux of our relationship was the Holy Temple, G‑d's home where He literally dwelt amongst His people, where His presence was tangible. Thrice yearly Jews would visit G‑d's home and feel His presence, feel the relationship. They would then return home invigorated by the experience, their hearts and souls afire with love for G‑d.

All the suffering which has been our lot since the day the Temple was destroyed is a result of our exiled state. When the king's son resides in the palace, when the king's love for the prince is on open display, the child is insulated against the designs of all his enemies. But when the child is expelled, the enemies pounce.

This is why we mourn the destruction of the Temples.

And we believe with perfect faith that the day is near when we will be returned to our Father's home, and once again be smothered by His love.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Jason P. Reyes San Antonio, TX July 16, 2013

We believe... once again I sat with my family discussing with them the significance of this time. How and why we mourn, was our conversation, when my oldest daughter (Aliyah - 12yrs) asked me, "If so many horrible things happened to us during this time, why do we remember them and not try to forget them?"

In response, I pointed at my newborn daughter (Elianah - 4mo) and said, "That's why." "We remember because we have hope for the future. Our exile has an expiration date, and with patient faithfulness to G-d and his Torah, we await the day when our mourning will turn to joy. When David sits again on the throne, the Temple reflects the majesty of G-d. Maybe in Elianah's lifetime, we will see these come to pass."

The taste of joy is that much sweeter when it replaces the taste of tears! As summarized in the last paragraph of the article above... We believe... once again!

May He establish His kingdom in our lifetime, and during our days, and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon! Reply

Anonymous July 16, 2013

pesach sacrifice Actually pesach sacrifice can be done according to Rambam even without the temple.
(But of course at the temple mount). Reply

Curious Panama, Panama via August 7, 2011

it wasnt only the destruction Can someone tell me what happened then, besides the destruction of the temple? I think i heard that millions died as well and the rest became slaves. Reply

Anonymous July 20, 2010

This was interesting!! Reply

Anne Wallach Brolklyn, USA via July 20, 2010

very inspiring and thought-provoking, thank you! Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for August 5, 2009

RE: One more question In addition to some of the answers given, I would note that there actually were G-dly revelations and miracles in the second Temple as well. Most notably, the Talmud in Yuma 21b states that a fire in the form of a dog [or wolf] descended from heaven and rested upon the Altar in the second Holy Temple.

Additionally, according to various commentators, the miracles enumerated in Ethics of Our Fathers 5:5 occurred in the Second Temple as well.

So while it is true that the G-dly revelations as well as the spiritual state of the Jewish people were not at the same level as in the first Temple, nevertheless, its destruction was a great loss to the Jewish people.

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY July 30, 2009

Reply to Josh Despite corruption in the priesthood and the sale of the office of the High Priest, the Second Temple gave Jews the ability to perform certain mitzvot that cannot be performed when there is no temple. For instance, did anyone have a piece of fresh roast lamb this past Pesach? Of course not - there was no Korban Pesach (Paschal sacrifice) because there are no more Korbanot (sacrifices). That is not a small thing. Our rabbis have said, "If the nations had known how important the Bais Hamikdash (Holy Temple) was to the whole world, not just the Jews, they would not have destroyed it. They would instead have hired soldiers to stand guard around it." While the Second Temple stood, it sent rays of blessing throughout the entire world. This was despite the problems of the Hasmonean era. The destruction of the Second Temple is viewed as the historical starting point for all later tragedies; when it is rebuilt, the Moshiach will come and "tears will be wiped off every face." Next year let Tisha B'Av be a moed (festival) not a fast. Reply

Sarah July 29, 2009

Re: One more Question Actually, not only was the second temple detroyed on Tisha B'av, but so was the first temple on the same date years earlier. In addition, there were other tragic events throughout Jewish history which took place on this date, such as the expulsion from Spain and the beginning of WWI which later led to the Holocaust, among others.

Even so, the destruction of the second temple is particularly tragic because afterwards, the Jews were exiled from Israel and the temple was not rebuilt (but G-d willing it will be speedily with the coming of Moshiach). Reply

Josh NYC, NY July 27, 2009

One more Question I love the essay but I must ask:

From what I've read on the subject, during the second temple period God did not reveal Himself to the Jewish people. in fact the temple was completely corrupt and for most of that period the priests and High priest were not fit for service.

I have always wondered why of all the disasters that the Jewish people have suffered we chose to commemorate the destruction of the 2nd temple which sat in disrepair most of the time and was only rebuilt by King Herod for political reasons. Reply

c.g. July 26, 2009

makes me cry I never quite thought of the destruction in this vein. As a parent myself, I can relate to this though. Very thought-provoking and emotional.
Thank you. Reply

Mary Beth Copeland Jacksonville, FL via July 24, 2009

Your message Wow.

Thanks. Reply

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