We dip the apple in the honey and savor its sweetness, hoping for a sweet year. We blow the shofar to awaken ourselves to do t’shuvah. We eat maror to remind us of the bitterness we experienced when we were slaves in Mitzrayim. As frum Jews, we live a life that’s filled with symbols.
I once worked with a non-Jew who happened to live next door to a shul in Brooklyn and was able to see the goings on from her home. She said she understood why we sang in prayer and danced with the Torah. But she wondered why we walked around in circles, banging branches on the ground. Hmm…that one was a bit harder to explain.
When we engage in certain rituals, we connect experientially and emotionally to what we know intellectually. Many of these symbols are easy for us to relate to. When we walk our children to the chupah, we intensely feel the moment as we escort the kallah to join her chasan under his symbolic roof. Similarly, in the case of bereavement, chas v’shalom, the mourner feels the pain of loss acutely when tearing k’riah. Our actions concretize our intense feelings.
And then there’s Tish’ah B’Av. We have lots of symbols and minhagim in place to help us feel the loss of the Beis HaMikdash. We have three weeks of gradually intensifying practices to help get us into the mode. Then, for nine days, among other things, we don’t listen to music, we don’t wear freshly laundered clothes, we don’t eat meat or chicken, except on Shabbos or at a siyum, and we fast. Twice.
I keep the halachos. But do I really experience a sense of loss of the Beis HaMikdash? I’m not proud to say it, but I didn’t think much about it on Shiv’ah Asar B’Tamuz. I was focused more on the Jewish Women’s Writers Seminar that I had attended the day before. As I sit on the floor and eat my eggs dipped in ashes on Erev Tish’ah B’Av, I do think about the Beis HaMikdash. But do I feel it? Not as much as I should. Tish’ah B’Av videos and shiurim do help a bit, but there is still room for improvement. So much of the focus is on getting through the fast that we sometimes forget the significance of the day. The timing of this mourning period, when many are in vacation mode, does little to enhance the connection to our loss.
Years ago, I spent some of the best summers of my life at Camp HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children). It is a frum camp but, officially, it is non-sectarian. Patricia* was an adorable 20-something non-Jewish camper in my bunk. She was every counselor’s dream of a camper. Patricia was always happy. She was respectful, cooperative, and she participated in every activity with enthusiasm. She also had a strong spiritual side.
I vividly recall Tish’ah B’Av one particular summer. The whole camp was sitting on the floor in shul listening to Eichah. Out of nowhere, Patricia burst into tears. This was worrisome. Patricia never ever cried. I approached her immediately and asked her if she felt okay. Maybe something was hurting her? Patricia was so distraught she could barely get the words out. “It burned,” she said. I thought maybe something was causing her a painful burning sensation. “What happened?” I asked. In between her sobs, she repeated, “It burned.” Then she clarified. “The Beis HaMikdash burned.” Patricia, who was not even Jewish, was crying inconsolably because the Beis HaMikdash burned! Her facial expression conveyed her deep sense of pain. I was stunned. I was a kid myself, back then, and thought this was quite funny. Patricia, the non-Jew, crying over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash.
Now, looking back, I ask myself why it is that a non-Jew was more upset about the loss of the Beis HaMikdash than I was. Of course, I yearn for the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, particularly these days when the world appears to be imploding under the pressures of woke agenda and anti-Semitism. We need to be rescued. And fast. But that’s not the same thing as feeling a loss for what once was, but rather having settled into and even enjoying a lifestyle that doesn’t include the Beis HaMikdash and all that goes along with it.
While it may be difficult to mourn the loss of something one has never experienced, there are things that we can personally connect to. The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sin’as chinam (baseless hatred). Chazal tell us that in every generation that the Beis HaMikdash isn’t rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in that generation. Unfortunately, sin’as chinam is not a thing of the past but is alive and well, spreading like wildfire for all to see. Ironically, the battle over judicial reform peaked during the week of Tish’ah B’Av. It’s not a phenomenon of the olden days like avodah zarah. It’s now. It’s us.
But there are glimmers of hope: A t’filah calling for unity at the Kosel made up of both supporters and opponents of judicial reform, scenes of supporters and opponents of judicial reform shaking hands as they pass each other on the escalator in the subway on their way to their respective demonstrations, religious women and irreligious female protesters staying up until 2:30 a.m. talking to each other and getting to know, understand, and even like members of the “other side” on a personal level, a man telling passersby on the street that he is of the opposite opinion regarding judicial reform (no matter what their opinion is), then asking for a hug and giving them wine and chocolate. These are all causes for optimism.
There is no doubt that we are living in historical and pivotal times. Maybe if we can honestly reflect on our role in preventing the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash in our generation, we will be inspired to do our part to turn things around and witness the G’ulah, b’ezras Hashem, in our lifetime.