Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Tisha B’Av Anger on Stones

  A long while back, I noticed a new face in shul; I introduced myself and asked where he was from. He had recently moved from Memphis; I asked him what made him decide to move. “My life was like a country song.” I looked puzzled. “I lost my job, my girlfriend broke up with me, and my dog died.” He had hit rock bottom and was looking for a fresh start. His message resonates with the Jewish people because this Wednesday night is the day on the Jewish calendar representing the Jewish people’s hitting rock bottom-Jerusalem and her Temple, the city and institution that had been the focal point of our nation, were destroyed. For Jews, it can’t get lower than that. It’s far worse than the Holocaust because until then there had been a central location for all things Jewish, after that we were scattered all over the globe. Tisha B’Av, the fast day on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, which begins this Wednesday night, has been a day reverberating with the force of disaster, and is set aside for national mourning. If so, then why does the prophet Zacharia tell us that in the future, the 9th of Av will be celebrated as a Holiday of great rejoicing? Tisha B’Av is a festival like none other. In every other instance of a festival, the manner in which we celebrate the sanctity of the day is determined by the miracles of G-d performed on that day. What miracle occurred on Tisha B’Av that enables it to become a festival in the future?What’s even more confusing is that it was specifically in the late afternoon of Tisha B’Av that the actual burning of the Temple commenced, continuing into the next day, the 10th of Av. Yet, precisely at that time certain restrictions of the day are removed. Until the afternoon, we sit on the floor or on a low stool but rise from that low position or shivastool and sit in a regular chair. We put on Tefillin, which is not permitted earlier in the day because it is called an adornment.  How can we alleviate the heavy atmosphere of our mourning precisely at the time when the destructive flames were beginning to envelop the Temple?Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), addresses these questions in his commentary on one of the most ancient dirges (Kinot) recited on Tisha B’Av, The Rose of Sharon.The enemy stretched out its hand against the Temple, for we deserved extinction no less than the generation of the flood…While the suffering on Tisha B’Av was frightening and dreadful, the day also contains an important element of the Almighty’s chessed (loving kindness) for us. G-d chose to express His wrath against the corruption and insensitivity of Israel by destroying the Temple’s inanimate stones. G-d razed the Temple to the ground, but He allowed us, His nation Israel, to live.Israel deserved the punishment of extinction no less than the generation of the flood, but G-d chose instead to destroy His earthly throne, the Holy Temple, as a substitute for Israel. In this manner, the Almighty demonstrated the eternal nature of His covenant with us. The Jewish nation may be punished but we will never be destroyed. We remain G-d’s covenantal nation and will ultimately repent, be redeemed, and redeem the world.The Divine guarantee emerging from Tisha B’Av enables the fast day to become a festival when our nation learns to appreciate the lesson of the day and becomes worthy of the fulfillment of the Covenant.This is why it is precisely when the flames were destroying the physical edifice of the Temple, but were not wiping out the Jewish people, Jewish law alleviates the gloomy and heavy mood of the day by allowing us to rise from sitting on the ground and to adorn ourselves.We were kicked out of our house, the one we shared with our Creator. It served as the spiritual supply station of G-d’s global pipeline, through which Divine energy would be pumped out to the rest of the world. When it was destroyed it wasn’t only a tragedy for us, it was a misfortune for the entire world. The Jerusalem Talmud boldly states: “Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it was destroyed in that generation.” If the Temple isn’t rebuilt, we know that we haven’t fully corrected the human flaws responsible for its destruction. Although there are a variety of reasons for the cause of the destruction, the best known are the toxic behaviors involving baseless hatred, immorality, and cruel, senseless evil speech. Tisha B’Av is the time to recognize that although we have hit a spiritual rock bottom, at the same time we have not been forgotten. Our nation’s existence is a miracle and an indication that there is a loving G-d who wants us to find our way back home. We might not be able to solve the world’s problems but at least we can address the senseless bickering and hatred that exist in our communities and sometimes at home. The Owner of the houses wants us back but in order for us to get there, we need to begin by looking in the mirror and working out the challenges in our personal and communal lives. (Sources: Zechariah 8: 19; Taanis 21a; Mesorat HaRav Kinot, The Complete Tisha B’Av Service with Commentary by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, How the Rose of Sharon sat aloneTalmud Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a).
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center