Reflections on Tisha B'Av

Rabbi Pinchas Chalk

On Tisha B'Av we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash - the Temple in Yerushalayim, and we pine for its rebuilding. What is the Beis Hamikdash? What is missing from the world as a result of its absence? Even with its loss, do we not live in a relatively benign exile? And then again, why mourn at all? Would it not be better to let time heal our wounds and forgetfulness to erase bitter memories?

Two qualities are often cited as comprising the core of Judaism: love and comprehension. Concerning love, the Talmud 1 states, "'Love your fellow as yourself' - this is whole Torah, the rest is commentary." As for understanding, we pray every day in the Amida: "Grant us from Yourself wisdom, understanding and intelligence." The Rambam writes 2 "kol hispa'alus ra" - all impressibility is evil. The Rambam directs us to take control our lives, to be autonomous and not to be misled.

The Gemara 3teaches us that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed as a result of the absence of these primary qualities. The Gemara explains that at the time of the destruction there prevailed a spirit of baseless hatred and foolishness. The existence of the Shechina - the Divine Presence, in the physical structure of the Beis Hamikdash was merely a manifestation of Hashem's presence in our own lives. When harmony and uprightness prevailed, the Shechina rested upon us and was tangibly present on Har Tzion (Mount Zion). However when fractiousness and one-upmanship became the currency of the time, the Shechina departed from the Jews and from Eretz Yisrael. The Temple became an empty shell, crushed by the megalomania of the Roman Empire.

When we grieve over the destruction of the Temple, we do not only mourn its physical absence. We also mourn the negativity that was the cause of the destruction and that still exists within our own lives. The purpose of Tisha B'Av is not to become depressed, but is rather to become rejuvenated and invigorated. This is a day on which we strengthen our grasp of reality and on which we become determined to increase the intimacy in our personal lives and to develop brotherhood within the community. By doing this we rebuild the Beis Hamikdash within ourselves and we bring closer the final Geulah (redemption) and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.


1 Shabbos 31a.
2 Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed).
3 Gittin 55b.

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