Tisha BeAv, the 9th of Av, the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar falls this year on Tuesday, July 24th. This horrible day is the day on which the First and Second Holy Temples were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE respectively. Our Sages designated this day as to commemorate all of the tragedies that befell the Jewish People throughout histroy. Indeed, Tisha BeAv has proven to be the date of many other tragedies during the ages. Tisha BeAv was the day when the Jewish People, in the desert, accepted the slanderous report of the spies and refused to go up and conquer the Land of Israel despite G-d's assurance that they would be victorious against the Land's inhabitants. When the people heard the frightening tales of the spies, they sat down and wept. G-d decried that since the people cried for no purpose on that night, G-d would establish that night as a night on which there will be reason to cry, for all ages. The Temples were destroyed on that day, the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by the Romans with the fall of the fortress of Beitar with 100 000 Jews killed, Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Roman general Tornus Rofus as a pagan city in which Jews were forbidden access, the Expulsion from England occured, the Spanish Inquisition which culminated in the choice of the Jews accepting baptism, death or exile was culminated on Tisha Beav... Among other things that happened were many bloody pogroms during the Middle-Ages, the beginning of WWI which led to the Holocaust, the Nazi conference that decided on the Final Solution and Treblinka opening its accursed doors of death. 2 years ago, 7000 Jews were expelled from Gush Katif on Tisha BeAv and last summer, Tisha BeAv was one of the most bloody days in during the Second Lebanon War. An excellent anthology of Tisha BeAv related essays and divrei Torah can be found here.
So what is Tisha BeAv? Tisha BeAv is the day when G-d's presence left the world, when He withdrew himself. The Holy Temple was the focus of all of the holiness in the universe and the channel through which G-d expressed himself on Earth. The Talmud describes the Temple:
The world is like a human eyeball
The white of the eye is the ocean surrounding the world
The iris is this continent
The pupil is Jerusalem
And the image in the pupil is the Holy Temple.
(Talmud - Derech Eretz Zuta 9)
According to Jewish tradition, the Temple is the 'foundation stone' of the world, where Kain and Abel built an altar to G-d and Abraham bound his son Isaac. The Temple was a place where G-d was tangible, where His very presence could be clearly seen and known. People in the Temple were constantly surrounded with miracles. The Talmud (Avot 5:8) tells that 10 miracles were present in the Temple every day:
1. No woman ever miscarried from the aroma of the animal offerings.
2. The animal offerings never spoiled.
3. A fly was never seen in the slaughterhouse of the Temple.
4. No unclean accident ever happened to the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur.
5. Rain did not extinguish the fire on the altar's wood-pile.
6. Despite the wind, the column of smoke from the altar always rose straight up.
7. No defect was ever found in the Omer or the Showbreads.
8. Though worshippers at the Temple stood closely pressed together, each one still had enough room to bow down.
9. No serpent or scorpion ever harmed anyone in Jerusalem.
10. Nobody ever said to his friend: 'There is no room for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem.'
The Temple was not just for Jews but for non-Jews as well. King Solomon specifically asked G-d to heed the prayer of the non-Jew who came to pray in the Temple and the Prophet Isaiah refers to the Beit Hamikdash as a 'house of prayer for all nations'. The Talmud actually says that had the nations of the world known how beneficial the Temple was to them, they would have built 70 fortresses around it to protect it!
When G-d destroyed His Temple, the shechinah, G-d's presence, was 'like a bird wandering from roof to roof'. G-d's presence is no longer manifest physcially in the world. That is what we mourn, our Exile from the One who created the Universe. The Churban, destruction of the Temple, is our alienation from our Heavenly Father. We yearn for the return of His presence to Earth.
The First Temple was destroyed because of the Jewish People's sins of bloodshed, idol worship and sexual immorality. The Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, causeless hate between the Jews. The only way that the Third Temple will be rebuilt is through Ahavat Yisrael, Jewish love and unity. Whevener we, Jews and non-Jews, do a good deed or fulfill a commandment, we make the world a more godly place and bring His presence back to Earth.
I invite everyone, Jews and non-Jews, to fast and mourn with me and the entire Jewish People on Tisha BeAv. Our yearning for the Temple will hasten the rebuilding of the Third Temple, may it be built speedily in our days. The Talmud promises that all of those who mourn the Temple will merit to see it rebuilt.
From the day that Jerusalem and the Holy Temple were destroyed, there is no joy before G-d... until Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the Jewish People will return to it.
- Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, Eychah 7009