Reasons for Fasting - Part 2
by Rabbi Yehudah Prero
In the last post, we started to discuss the five tragedies which occurred on
the Ninth of Av. They are: the decree that our ancestors in the desert would
not enter the land was issued; the first Temple was destroyed; the second
Temple was destroyed; the city of Betar was conquered; the city of Jerusalem
was plowed under.
We pick up in this issue with the destruction of the second Temple.
3) The Destruction of the Second Temple
The Gemora, when addressing the topic of how we know that the destruction of
the second Temple occurred on the ninth of Av, explains that the Temple must
have been destroyed on this day, because of the principle "Good things are
brought to pass on auspicious days, bad things on an ominous day." The
Gemora continues and explains that there were certain peculiarities about
the events occurring at the time of the destruction of the first Temple,
which were repeated at the time of the destruction of the second Temple as
well. Therefore, the destruction of the second Temple had to occur on the
day that the first Temple was destroyed - the Ninth of Av.
The Me'iri writes that the sages on the Mishna clearly knew the exact date
of the destruction of the second Temple. What the Gemora is telling us is
that it couldn't have been any other way, because misfortune is brought
about in an ominous time.
4) The City of Betar was Conquered
The Gemora tells us that we know Betar was conquered on the ninth of Av
because we have a tradition that this is so.
The Medrash explains the events surrounding the fall of Betar. Fifty two
years after the second Temple was destroyed, a large Jewish army massed in
the city of Betar. The leader of this army was Bar Koziva, also known as Bar
Kochba. The sage Rabbi Akiva became Bar Kochba's armor bearer and regarded
him as the Moshiach (Messiah). Bar Kochba was very successful in battle and
managed to hold the Romans back for three and 1/2 years.
Bar Kochba's eventual downfall stemmed from his belief that he could triumph
without the assistance of G-d. He declared "Lord of the Universe, neither
help nor hinder us. Hashem, have you not deserted us (by allowing the Temple
to be destroyed)? Now, you shall not go out with our armies."
The real reason why the Roman general Hadrian, whose troops surrounded
Betar, was not able to breach the city was because for those 3 1/2 years,
the sage R' Eleazar of Modi'in (Bar Kochba's uncle) sat in sackcloth and
prayed to Hashem that He "should not sit in judgment today."
Hadrian was about to abandon his siege when a Cuthite approached him and
told him the secret of Betar's defense - R' Eleazar. The Cuthite also told
Hadrian his plan of how to conquer Betar. The Cuthite managed to get into
the city, and sought out R' Eleazar. When he found the sage, he was
engrossed in prayer and oblivious to what was occurring around him. The
Cuthite, unbeknown to R' Eleazar, went over to him and pretended to whisper
in his ear. The guards of Bar Kochba who witnessed this incident were
suspicious, and reported to Bar Kochba that "your uncle R' Eleazar is
plotting to surrender the city." After the guards finished relating the
incident, Bar Kochba sent for the Cuthite. Upon questioning, the Cuthite
told Bar Kochba that R' Eleazar told him that he is ready to surrender the
city. Bar Kochba then immediately went to R' Eleazar with the accusations
the Cuthite made. When R' Eleazar denied ever having such a conversation,
Bar Kochba became angered, and kicked R' Eleazar, who was instantly killed.
Soon after R' Eleazar died, the city of Betar was captured and Bar Kochba
was killed, with his head presented to Hadrian. Hadrian acknowledged that
had G-d not allowed him to defeat Bar Kochba, he would never have been able
to do such.
The Tiferes Yisroel wrote that 580,000 Jews were killed in Betar. The
Medrash says that the amount of casualties was so great, that horses were
submerged in blood up to their noses. Blood flowed from Betar into the
Mediterranean Sea, carrying huge stones with it. The Rambam (Maimonides)
wrote that the capture of Betar and slaughter of its inhabitants was a
tragedy as great as the destruction of the Temple.
5) The City was Plowed Under
According to one text in the Gemora, we know that the city of Jerusalem was
plowed under from tradition. The Gemora relates that Turnus Rufus, a Roman
officer, plowed the area of the Temple under. The Rambam adds to this that
not only did he plow the Temple area, but the area around it as well.
Check out all of the posts on The Three Weeks: 17 Tammuz - 9 Av Mourning the Destruction. Head over to
http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.