Dear Rabbi Fried,
With regard to the three-week mourning period we’re now observing, I’m struggling a bit to find a way to make this meaningful in my life. How does one gain inspiration by mourning for Temples that were destroyed thousands of years ago?
This three-week period is known as “bein ha’metzarim” or “between the borders” (Lamentations 1:3). It marks the remembrance of 10 calamities which befell the Jewish people, five on the day of the 17th of Tamuz, which was the fast day this past Sunday, and five more on the Ninth of Av, which will be the second fast day ending this period, on Sunday, July 21 (beginning on the Saturday night of the 20th).
The first five, at the beginning of the period, were like warning shots — breaking of the tablets, laying siege to the city walls, cessation of the offerings, the burning of a Torah scroll. These were all things that could have been stopped or rectified. The five of Tisha B’Av, however, were calamities of finality — a decree that the generation of the desert would all die there, the final destruction of both Temples, etc.
In my opinion, one of the most important points to focus upon during this time is an idea that permeates the writings of our sages and is a foundational understanding of our diaspora history, all beginning with the above calamities.
Tisha B’Av is, despite its sadness, a “holiday.” It is referred to by Jeremiah as a “moed,” which is Hebrew for holiday: “…it is called upon me as a moed, to break my youth” (Lamentations 1:15). This seems to be as antithetical to a holiday as can be.
Moed literally means a “meeting place”; a holiday is a time that we are elevated to “meet with God” in our higher state. That is why our holidays, beginning with Pesach, are based upon miracles. The Hebrew for miracle is nes, which literally means “elevation.” A miracle elevates us to a place where we can connect to God, hence a miracle brings us to a moed. We are able, through the miracle, nes, to view things and connect at an elevated level.
On Tisha B’Av there were, in fact, miracles performed, as well. At the time of the destruction of the First Temple, the Babylonians found the cherubim on the ark embracing each other and paraded them through the streets to shame the Jews. In their holiest place, they feature a male and female in loving embrace.
Truth be told, that embrace was the greatest joy of the Jewish people, as the cherubim represented the embrace of God and Israel. There was a standing miracle that the degree of their embrace was a barometer of the relations of God and Israel. Although there were no moving parts, they would swivel in or out depending on the Jews’ piety. The fact that they were embracing at the time of turning our back to God and our destruction was a miracle within a miracle. It was to expose our nakedness.
This is a new type of miracle, a “miracle for the bad” (see Rit’va to Talmud Yoma 54b). A similar miracle occurred at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple when Titus pierced the curtain before the Holy of Holies and it gushed blood, allowing him to think he had “killed God.” Another “miracle for the bad” that revealed the extent that the Jews had severed the connection between the upper and lower worlds, the very connection that canopy represented.
Miracles for the good — splitting the sea, etc. — obviously catapult us to higher levels of connection. Bad things that befall us, like hatred, exiles, destructions and massacres, don’t seem to bring us to higher places. But when we view the miraculous perspective of these occurrences, to the extent they are completely inexplicable in any human terms, shows us that we are connected to something higher and can potentially elevate us through that realization.
The level of fixation on the Jewish people throughout our exile, up until the complete fixation of the world upon Israel today, makes no sense. The entire world has nothing to worry about besides a piece of land around the size of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and two-thirds the population of New York City. Article 7 of the United Nations “Human Rights” Commission mandates this committee to hold a discussion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict at every meeting.
Beginning with the destruction of the Temples, we have witnessed and suffered pogroms, inquisitions, blood libels, a Wansee Conference and finally the unspeakable Holocaust…not ending there, but suicide bombings, BDS, condemnation after condemnation from the U.N. when other nations are murdering hundreds of thousands like Syria today…it doesn’t matter, it all about the Jews. It may be a “miracle for the bad,” but a miracle it is.
My late mentor once pointed out that the sum total of all the reasons and rationales for anti-Semitism provided by sociologists, historians and scholars will possibly account for 5 percent of what has actually transpired. What about the other 95 percent? A miracle. Albeit a “miracle for the bad,” but a miracle just the same.
We don’t have the space to discuss the nature or the “why” of these miracles. For now, let it suffice to say that it would be far worse for God to have forgotten about us, to have simply given up on us and no longer care, than to be involved with us…even in a way which seems as bad as can be. A child would rather have his parent angry at him than not care about him at all.
Let us remember that the destruction was in the month of Av, which means “father,” because — when we witness this inexplicable behavior toward us — it reminds us that this all happened, and is happening, precisely because we have a Father.
Let us focus on this during this time and, perhaps, the lessons we will learn will bring an end to the need to teach us anymore.