Today is Tisha B'Av, which in English is the ninth day of the month of Av in the Hebrew calender.
It is a day of prayer, fasting and mourning. Both the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem were destroyed on this exact date, 656 years apart.
Tisha B'Av has an evil repute in Jewish history. On this same date, the following tragedies occurred aside from the destruction of the First and Second Temples:
- The sin of the twelve scouts sent by Moses who spoke disparagingly about the Land G-d promised the Jews traditionally occurred on Tisha B'av, causing the delay in entering the Holy Land.
- The Romans crushed Bar Kokhba's revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 100,000 Jews, in 132 CE.
- The First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II in 1095..with the result that 10,000 Jews were murdered wholesale in its first month and most of the Jewish communities in France and Germany were destroyed.
- The Jews were violently expelled from England in 1290 after the Blood Libel and were not allowed to return to England until the days of Oliver Cromwell, four hundred years later.
- Jews were expelled wholesale from Spain in 1492 after living peacefully in the country for five centuries.
- On Tisha B'Av 1914 (August 1, 1914), World War I began, causing the devastation of Europe and directly setting the stage for the Holocaust.
- On Tisha B'av 1941, Nazi leader Hermann Göring gave a written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) to "make all necessary preparations" for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in all the territories under German rule.
- On the eve of Tisha B'Av 1942, the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, mostly to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
- In 1994 on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed by Hezbollah, the agents of Iran, killing 86 innocent people and wounding 300 others.
The Book of Lamentations, the Book of Job, portions of Jeremiah and chapters of the Talmud that discuss the laws of mourning are traditionally read. Aside from that, Torah study is prohibited as it is considered a pleasant activity.
So in the midst of this mourning, what should members of the tribe consider?
At the risk of sounding complacent, there is some comfort in having survived the determined attempts by the most powerful empires of their time to exterminate us. They are gone, and we survive., and that is perhaps a lesson in itself that there is a heavenly power at work in spite of everything.
It's also worth noting that the truly horrid things that happened to the Jews over the centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple and the diaspora happened because the Jews were defenseless, with no country to call their own. That of course is no longer true, but it might just be that some of the atrocities visited on the Jews had the hidden benefit of convincing even those in relatively comfortable circumstances that a strong, powerful country and a haven was an absolute necessity.
Certainly that was the case of Theodore Herzl, a thoroughly assimilated Austrian Jewish journalist who had no thoughts at all about Zionism - until he covered the Dreyfus case in France back in 1894 ( a mere 118 years ago) and saw the mobs in the Paris streets howling for the death of the Jews.
At that point, he realized that no matter how long they lived in Europe, no matter how much they regarded themselves as good, patriotic Austrians, Frenchmen, Germans, et al the Jews would always be aliens, always regarded as the Other. So he went home, laid out the case for Zionism by writing Der Judenstaadt and helped give birth to a modern miracle.
In its short history, Israel has redeemed Jews from Europe, Ethiopia and the entire Middle East who would have died otherwise. Had a strong, powerful Israel existed only twenty or thirty years earlier, the Six Million would not have perished.
That's something that's worth considering, especially for those self-hating Jews and others who make their religion out of disparaging and attacking the world's only Jewish country.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel once said that to him,the holiest spot in Israel was not the Kotel, the Western Wall but the tiny booth at Ben Gurion airport where a Jewish customs agent sat stamping entry visas.
On this Tisha B'av, as we mourn the horrors of the past, let us not forget to remember the hope of the future.
Napoleon, oddly enough, was one person who foresaw that future. He once passed a synagogue during the Ninth of Av, looked inside and saw Jews sitting on the floor, barefoot and weeping. When he asked why, he was told the Jews were mourning over the destruction of their Holy Temples. “How long ago did this occur?”, he asked. “About 1,500 years ago”. “In that case”, said Napoloan, “there is no doubt that their Temple will be rebuilt. A people capable of crying for so long over its destroyed Temple and Land will eventually find its way home.”
The Jews are once again home. May the Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdosh be rebuilt soon, and in our time.