The Saddest Day of the Year

The Ninth of Av is the national day of mourning for the Jewish people. It is on this day that our two temples were destroyed. It was on this day that the city of Beitar was captured by the Romans that led to the murder of tens of thousands of Jews. And it was on this day that the Jewish people in the desert cried all night after hearing the evil report of the spies. It is a date of great pain and suffering throughout our history.

Coincidentally, the month of Av is the eleventh month in the Hebrew calendar. The new year, or Rosh Hashana, falls in the month of Tishrei. The Ninth of Av is the ninth day of the eleventh month, or the first “nine eleven” that became known as a date in infamy.

Most Jews do not fully understand why the loss of our two temples is so tragic. It seems to many that an extremely beautiful structure that was the central place of prayer, no longer existed. This is very unfortunate but there are still synagogues throughout the Jewish world. I will attempt to explain the depth and extent of this tragedy.

The most glorious period in our history was the reign of King Solomon. His temple was clearly one of the most wondrous buildings that existed. People came from all over the world to marvel at its physical beauty. King Solomon used 150,000 workers over a seven year period to give a dwelling place for G-d on earth. Because of his incredible wealth, Solomon used huge amounts of gold to adorn his temple.

The material side, despite its splendor, was dwarfed by the intense spiritual contentment of the Jewish nation. A benevolent king ruled the land with strength and justice. There was peace and prosperity. The Torah was the law that was observed by all. The judicial system led by the Great Sanhedrin of seventy one righteous scholars, convened on the Temple Mount. Even when someone lost a case litigated in court, he would walk away singing, knowing that truth was the victor.

The Temple was a symbol of the special bond between G-d and His people. The three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Succot had the entire nation joined together in prayer and celebration. They could literally feel G-d’s Presence. They left the holidays rejuvenated and elevated. Witnessing the face of the High Priest on Yom Kippur after he successfully prayed on behalf of the people in the Holy of Holies, was an incredible sight to see.

In essence, there was a fulfillment of the verse in the Book of Ezekiel, “You will be My people, and I will be your G-d.” The ongoing daily sacrifices with the offering of the incense, filled Jerusalem with a sweet holy fragrance. The Talmud relates that even as far as Jericho, the sheep sneezed from the incense known as “Ketoret!” The Jewish nation was fulfilling its purpose after the exodus from Egypt.

The Book of Kings tells us that Solomon’s temple was completed 480 years after leaving Egypt. This was the culmination of Jewish destiny. We were told that we were to be led to the Promised Land where we would become a great nation. We would teach the world morality and seek the welfare of all of the nations. This was what Judaism was intended to be. The Jewish people were to serve G-d in the Land of Israel with the Temple as the central symbol of this role given to the Chosen People.

There was a constant warning that if we weakened in our faith and abandon the laws of the Torah, we would be banished from the land. We would be placed in an unnatural situation where we would be disconnected from our source and be challenged to survive in a hostile world. We suffered in the Exile every kind of humiliation imaginable. It was only our prayers, remaining steadfast in our observance of the Torah, and the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” that miraculously allowed us to survive.

Today we live in amazing times. On the negative side, there is so much ignorance among our people. Assimilation and intermarriage runs rampant, with the infiltration of philosophies that are foreign to Judaism. But on the positive side, we have witnessed a return of over six million Jews to our beloved State of Israel. We are getting closer to the point where we can see this long and bitter exile coming to an end.

The prophets predicted that at the end of this journey, there would be a famine in the land. But it would not be a famine of bread and water. It would be a famine of the masses not seeking out the word of G-d. Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, is meant to be a day of reflection on what we once had and lost. It is the saddest day of the year when we realize what we once were and how far we have strayed.

The rabbis of the Talmud reflected on our history and said that if our only sin was that we “did not adequately mourn for Jerusalem,” our exile would continue. We must pray that the Jewish nation be great once again and we fulfill our holy destiny in this world. It is not natural for the Jewish people to be outside of its land.

We are also taught that those who do mourn for our holy Temple and Jerusalem, and deeply yearn that we return to the “days of old,” will merit to see its rebuilding. We will again have that special relationship of “You will be My people and I will be your G-d.” May that day come speedily in our time.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for nearly twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the past twelve years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.