Mourning on the 9th of Av: The Reasons
Guest contributor - Rabbi Jacob Mendelson
The Fast of the 9th of Av, which concludes the Three Weeks, begins at sundown
on Wednesday, August 9, 2000 and ends at nightfall on Thursday, August 10, 2000.
We find the catastrophe of Tisha B'av attributed by our Sages to a variety of
"Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things: idolatry,
immorality, and bloodshed." (Yoma 9b)
"Judea was exiled out of affliction-because they ate Chometz, leaven, on
Pesach (rather than the bread of affliction, Matzah)." (Medrash Eicha Rabba -
on Eicha 1:3)
"Why was the Land lost? Because they abandoned My Torah-because they did not
say a Bracha (blessing) on learning Torah." (Nedarim 81a)
"Jerusalem was destroyed because they violated the Shabbos; ...because they
neglected to say the Shema morning and evening as it says, "Woe to those that
get up early to drink beer;" ...because the children did not go to Cheder
(school), ...because they had no shame; ... because they did not rebuke each
other; ...because they ridiculed scholars. (Shabbos 119b)
These four sources appear to be in conflict over the reasons for the
destruction of the First Bais Hamikdosh (Temple). Upon closer scrutiny,
however, I would suggest that they do not disagree. Rather they refer to
different aspects of the Churban, the destruction. Each of the statements of
Chazal, our Sages, describes the tragedy with a distinct word. The first
speaks of "Churban," destruction; the second refers to "Galus," exile; the
third mentions "Avdan, "being lost; and the fourth focuses on Yerushalayim,
Beginning with Churban, destruction, let us look for its connection to the
three cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality, and murder. These three are all
crimes of passion. [While this is quite obvious with immorality and murder,
we are taught that idolatry, as well, was a sin of passion in the days of the
First Bais Hamikdosh. The Yeitzer Horah, or Evil Inclination, for idolatry
was very active and almost irresistible in those days. Upon building the
Second Bais Hamikdosh, the Sages prayed successfully that the power of the
Yeitzer Horah should be curtailed in the area of idolatry. It is therefore
difficult for us to understand the extreme nature of the temptation for
idolatry in those days. Thus idolatry in its heyday was indeed a crime of
Passion burns in the human heart. When it is channeled towards good, then
passion leads to great accomplishments in Torah, Chesed (kindness), and every
area of human development. In marriage it produces a strong stable family
and household. When passion is misused, however, it destroys families and
homes, and brings destruction to society - all symbolized by the destruction
of the Temple. To put it another way, the Psalmist says "We will go to the
House of Hashem with _feeling_." The Bais Hamikdosh is the place for the
fiery and passionate expression of emotion to Hashem in prayer, repentance,
thanksgiving, and joy. But if the passion is wrongly directed, then its fire
consumes the holy place. Thus destruction is the result of passion.
The second passage speaks about the exile of the Jews from their land. We
have seen that the misuse of passion results in the loss of vehicles for
positive and meaningful emotional experiences, but it does not necessarily
result in exile. We lost our right to our Land, not because of passion, but
because of arrogance, as symbolized by eating Chometz on Pesach. Chometz is
the opposite of "Lechem Oni," bread of affliction. Chometz - with its rich,
fermented, expansive development - is the bread of opulence, of power, of
haughtiness. It bespeaks gloating self-assuredness. As the Torah says in
Parshas Eikev, "And you shall eat and be satisfied ... and your heart will
soar..." The Torah then goes on to say that we will be driven from the Land
of Israel. Our People should have celebrated our continued freedom with
Matzah, the bread of affliction, showing that we did not rise to success on
our own, rather our freedom and power comes from Hashem. Instead we ate the
bread of arrogance, thus eliminating the true Source of our power, and
forfeiting our very claim to the Land. For we have only one ultimate claim
to Eretz Yisrael (as the commentator Rashi says at the beginning of
Bereishis), and that is that Hashem gave it to us. Thus exile is the result
In terms of the Talmudic passage in the tractate Nedarim, it says that we
were lost because our People did not say a Bracha on the Torah. The Ran, a
commentator, explains that the Torah did not seem important enough to them
that it should warrant a Bracha. When the Torah is not special, when it is
not the touchstone of wisdom and value, when it is not the measure of all
things, when it is just another subject, then we are missing our moral
compass and we are truly lost. The incredible nihilism, reflected in the
"anything goes" attitude of contemporary culture, the total lack of any real
values that is so prevalent today is to a great degree traceable to the
fact that contemporary man has no moral anchors, no areas of complete
certainty, no strong, fundamental beliefs. Our generation is all adrift.
Thus being lost is the result of not appreciating Torah.
Finally, the passage in the tractate of Shabbos addresses itself to the
destruction of Jerusalem. In general we find that in our prayers we emphasize
the City of Jerusalem more than the Bais Hamikdosh. For example in the daily
Shemoneh Esray, we say "And to Jerusalem your city," asking for the
restoration of Jerusalem "_Your_ City," without a specific reference to the
Temple. The same emphasis exists in the Haftorah of Shabbos Chazon as well
as in the prayer of "Nachaim," said on Tisha B'Av in the afternoon. The
simple explanation for this emphasis on the City and not the Temple is, of
course, that the Navi, in the Haftorah of Chazon, decries the People's
insincere devotion to the Temple and its rituals, at the expense of
righteousness and justice. However we can look deeper.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh writes (in Bereishis4:7) that the word "Ir,"
which means city, is related to the word "Ur," which means awaken. The city,
with its concentration of people in close proximity, and the constant
exchange of ideas, offers the possibility for the greatest development of
man. In the city a person utilizes and develops his most human capabilities.
It is in cities that civilization develops. While the country provides food
for the body, it is the city that provides food for the mind and the spirit.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (in "Jerusalem, the Eye of the Universe") develops this
idea further by reference to a statement of Chazal that "there is no city but
Jerusalem," (Kesubos 111b) meaning that Jerusalem is the quintessential
city. With the Sanhedrin (the great court) and all its great Sages, with the
Bais Hamikdosh and its ten daily miracles, with the presence of the Shechina,
the Divine Presence, a person has the opportunity, more than in any other
place, to develop his human and spiritual side. That is why we are bidden to
make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, "Aliya Leregel" on the three Festivals of
Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos. The commentator the Maharsha adds that all
other cities are but suburbs of Jerusalem, B'nos Yerushalayim, Daughters of
Jerusalem. In other words, all civilizations should be nurtured and
developed by relating to Jerusalem as the model civilization.
When the Gemara speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem, it means the loss of
that shining example of human development that Jerusalem was meant to be. All
the causes mentioned in the Gemara, are factors that destroy civilization.
_Shabbos_ . Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) was able to convince Pharaoh that he
should give the slaves a day of rest because civilization cannot exist and be
productive without a Sabbath. _Shema_. When people do not say the Shema,
reaffirming priorities and basic direction in life, but instead run straight
to the nearest bar (read "drug dealer"), there can be no civilization.
_Cheder_. Without a well functioning system of (elementary) education, no
civilization can survive. _Shame, Rebuke...Sages_. When people have no
relationship with each other and are complete islands, when they don't care
enough to criticize one another's behavior, and when they cannot learn from
those who are wiser, then the entire function of the city, as it was
conceived to be, is wasted. Instead of being a cradle of civilization the
city becomes a hellhole of degradation and crime, a phenomenon that we all
too often witness.
We need desperately to re-connect to our spiritual moorings, through learning
Torah and seeking out -from our Torah luminaries- its teachings in all areas
of contemporary life. For only the Torah, its Halacha (laws) and its
Hashkafa (philosophy), can effectively guide us through the confusion of
Through clarity in the Torah, we can "find' ourselves again.
Through remembering that our freedom and power derives only from Hashem, we
can once again deserve our Land.
Through a passionate re-dedication to Hashem, we can once again merit the
Bais Hamikdosh, may it be built speedily in our days.
Through an appreciation of the vast spiritual resources inherent in Jerusalem
and the Mitzvos connected with it, may we merit to experience its rebuilding.
Have an easy fast.
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