I was sitting with someone the other day who told me that he didn’t “feel” Tisha B’Av. He would recite kinot at night and then afterwards he would watch a movie or listen to music because the destruction of a Temple from 2,000 years ago didn’t mean anything to him. He knew that we were supposed to cry on Tisha B’Av, but he didn’t feel sad. The destruction took place 2,000 years ago and is essentially meaningless to us now. Do we truly care about rebuilding a Temple or offering sacrifices?
I suggested to him that he cry for not knowing why to cry. He should cry for not understanding why we should be sad on Tisha B’Av. And perhaps the five tragedies that are associated with Tisha B’Av that are recorded in Masechet Taanit can provide us with a glimpse of why we should cry on Tisha B’Av even today. The first event that is associated with Tisha B’Av is the sin of the spies. The spies were content to remain in the desert, thereby rejecting the historic mission of the Jewish people to thrive and flourish in the Land of Israel. We should cry about this sin because it is so prevalent today. Poll after poll finds that young American Jews are increasingly turning away from Israel. They don’t see the centrality of Israel in Jewish life anymore and are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Even many religious Jews who don’t live in Israel are complacent in the Diaspora and do not feel pained by living outside our historic homeland.
The second event that is associated with Tisha B’Av is the destruction of the First Temple. The First Temple was destroyed because we failed to observe key mitzvot that govern our nation which are a condition to us remaining in Eretz Yisrael. Unfortunately, this sin is prevalent today, as well. Think about how much of Israeli society is not only non-religious, but how much of Israeli society is anti-religious and have absolutely no intention of observing what they consider are archaic laws that have no place in the 21st century.
The third event that is associated with Tisha B’Av is the destruction of the Second Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed because of “sinat chinam,” hatred towards one another and unfortunately, the lack of unity and cooperation among Jews in Israel, our homeland, and in the diaspora continues to exist without any realistic signs of improving.
The fourth event that is associated with Tisha B’Av is the fall of Betar. Until the fall of Betar, there was hope. The Jews thought that they could rebuild the Temple soon. After all, it only took 70 years after the destruction of the First Temple to rebuild the Second Temple. And now, less than 70 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews had Rabbi Akiva, the Gadol Hador, proclaiming that Bar Kochba is the messiah and they had an army that was actually successful in expelling the Roman garrison from Jerusalem. This was the military victory of Chanuka all over again! But then the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed and there was essentially no more talk of returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the Temple. Hope was lost. The fall of Betar represents the tragedy of hopelessness and today we not only cry over the lack of a sense of mission, or the anti-religious behavior of Jews in Israel or the senseless hatred, but we also cry over the sense of hopelessness that any of this will improve in the near future. So maybe it’s hard for us to cry over the destruction of a Temple or the cessation of sacrifices, but there are plenty of reasons for us to cry this coming Tisha B’Av.
However, there’s a fifth event that is associated with Tisha B’Av that is recorded in Masechet Taanit, the plowing of the city. It’s not so clear which city was plowed and when. For example, regarding the second question, Rashi believes that it was plowed after the destruction of the First Temple whereas the Tur believes that it was plowed after the destruction of the Second Temple. Perhaps what is important about this event is not which city was plowed or when it was plowed, but what is important is that Rabbi Akiva, at the end of Masechet Makkot, laughs when he sees how the Temple Mount was plowed, because he is confident that just as the prophecy of the city being plowed has been fulfilled, so, too, the prophecy of the repopulating of the city will be fulfilled and the Temple will be rebuilt. So, yes, we should cry this coming Tisha B’Av, even in 2018, for the reasons suggested. But even on Tisha B’Av, we must never give up hope.