As I write this, Jews around the world are preparing to commemorate Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed not once, but twice: first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and again by the Romans in the year 70 CE.
Tisha B’Av is a day of communal mourning. It is similar to Yom Kippur in its observance – Jews fast during Tisha B’Av and refrain from doing anything enjoyable. Since the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, Tisha B’Av also commemorates the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, numerous pogroms, and other tragic events that have befallen upon our people.
Of course, it is quite doubtful that each of these events transpired on the actual 9th of Av. But by placing our communal tragedies and misfortunes onto this one date, we have the chance to mourn together. gives us a chance to heal together. During my first year in Israel at HUC-JIR (1999), Paul Liptz suggested that the 9th of Av becomes a spiritual bucket for our misfortunes in order for us to get on with our lives the other 364 days a year.
During the recent months, there have been many days of mourning. In many ways, today is Tisha B’Av. Our world seems to be rampant with racial tension, political discord and senseless violence and death.
A few weeks ago, over 80 people were mowed down by a truck driver in Nice, France. In our communities, each of us have mourned deaths in Turkey, Dallas, Brussels, Israel, Baghdad, Orlando, Baton Rouge… the temple is getting destroyed again, and again.
On Tisha B’Av, as we mourn the destruction of the temple, we read from the book of Lamentations:
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.
The very name of this book, Lamentations, reminds us that we must learn how to lament – how to mourn. Too often in our communities, mourning turns into anger or blame. Instead of mourning the loss of a child, some blame parents. Instead of crying at the loss of life due to gun violence, many (myself included) turn to Facebook and act as “armchair lobbyist.” But Lamentations teaches us differently: Instead of proposing solutions, or laying blame, the most appropriate response to tragedy is to be together to bear witness, to mourn, to lament.
Just before its conclusion, Lamentations offers us a bit of hope:
Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.
This reminds us that we are never so far astray as to remove all manner of hope. But the onus is not upon God to restore us. The responsibility is on ourselves.
Generations after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, our rabbis taught us that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was Sinat Ha’Am – the hatred amongst people.
We still have not learned the lesson. Sinat Ha’am is very easy to find these days. When we are able put an end to this senseless hate, we will be renewed as in days of old. Yes, the onus is indeed on us. Until then, God laments and mourns alongside of us.
2000 years ago, our 2nd Temple was destroyed. I continue to pray for the day within our lifetimes that our communities do not add even more tragic events to the commemoration of Tisha B’av.
Rabbi Eric Linder serves Congregation Children of Israel in Athens, Georgia.