Why I like Tisha Be’Av

Without it, Jews could forget essential things.

temple mount 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
temple mount 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tisha Be’Av is no one’s favorite day.
Commemorating as it does the destruction of both of our ancient Holy Temples and the ongoing exile of the Jewish people, it is a time of mourning, fasting, lamentations, stock-taking, recollections of holocausts old and new. Who likes such things? On a certain level, I must confess that I do.
There are several reasons.
First and foremost, without this day, we, the Jews, could easily forget some very essential things about ourselves. For one thing, it focuses our minds and hearts on the centrality of the Land of Israel in Judaism. The Kinot lamentations we recite on this day repeatedly stress the concept of Zion. This is normally translated as Jerusalem or the Land of Israel, but the word means more than that. It refers to a designated signpost. One of the reasons the Bible refers to the Land of Israel as Zion is because it is in fact a signpost on the road that leads to a closeness to God. There is a certain mystique in Eretz Yisrael that is found nowhere else in the world. It is here that the Divine spirit rests; from here our prayers ascend to the Almighty; it is from the earth of the Temple Mount that Adam was created; it was here that Isaac was brought by Abraham to be sacrificed, that Jacob dreamed of his famous ladder reaching from earth to heaven.
And it is here that God chose to have his Holy Temples built. The Land of Israel is truly a signpost pointing to heavenly things.
Since Jerusalem and Israel are the spiritual center of the universe for us, it is no wonder that the destruction of this center is the focal point of our mourning on this day. For in addition to other national calamities, Tisha Be’Av commemorates the destruction of the First Temple in approximately 586 BCE, and of the Second Temple in approximately the year 70 CE.
Zion, the signpost pointing towards spirituality and Godliness, was brutally ground under foot by Israel’s enemies, Jerusalem was pillaged and burned to the ground, and its inhabitants were tormented and sent into exile. It is no wonder that on this day, all Jews feel like mourners .
Why, then, do I like this day? Because it was only the physical manifestations of Godliness that were destroyed. The essential Zion was not touched, for that is indestructible. Zion, you see, has yet another meaning: it means a huge rock. No matter how the nations hack away at that rock, no matter how many spears they throw at it, the rock remains impregnable.
And Tisha Be’Av, which commemorates so many calamities that occurred to Jews on this day, also reminds me of the fact that the historic enemies who perpetrated these calamities are gone – but we are still here. We sit on the ground and mourn for that which once existed. But as a people we still exist, while our classic enemies have disappeared.
Zion - the Land of Israel and by extension the entire Jewish people – is that eternal and impenetrable rock.
I like Tisha Be’Av also because it reminds me that the Land of Israel is God’s chosen land, designed for His chosen people. Interesting, is it not, that of the many cultures and people and armies that have occupied this land in history, none has been able to make the land flourish except the Jews.
Until the Jews returned to the land, it remained unresponsive to its many pursuers.
Its numerous conquerors through history could not make the land fruitful.
Particularly in our day do I welcome Tisha Be’Av. We do not live in an easy time for the Jewish State or for the Jewish people.
Our so-called peace partners in the Arab world incite their children against us, and still dream of driving us into the sea.
Anti-Semitism is resurgent. One does not have to be paranoid to feel that some people out there do not like us.
At such a time, Tisha Be’Av reminds us not to despair. Today’s enemies, despite their formidable numbers and power, will also find us indestructible, and they too will ultimately find themselves in the dustbin of history.
And this is the greatest comfort of this day – that God and His teaching preserve us and make us an eternal people. We cannot be destroyed from without. The only thing we need to fear is the tendency to destroy ourselves from within.
Tisha Be’Av is here. Together with millions of Jews around the world, I sit on the ground, read lamentations, and ponder the fate of the Jewish people and the Jewish land. But beneath the mourning and the fasting, there dwells a deep solace: I am a proud part of the indestructible signpost and rock that is called Zion.
The author, a resident of Jerusalem, served a rabbi in Atlanta for 40 years. The former editor of Tradition Magazine, he is the author of nine books, most recently, Tales Out of Jerusalem. He is on the editorial staff of the newly published Encyclopedia of Mitzvos.