The Jewish Blog of Why: Why Do We Mourn the Destruction of an Ancient Temple?

By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn

Today, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. We commemorate the destruction of two Temples by refraining from eating and drinking and behave as like mourners by sitting on the floor, refraining from wearing leather shoes, marital relations, washing and beautifying ourselves. Understandably many people cannot understand what all the fuss is about and feel that it is time to let bygones by bygones. 

The Holy Temples in Jerusalem are meant to be a place where all of mankind can come and learn about universal values of peace, wisdom and morality. It was not only a Jewish house of prayer, but a place for all of humanity. The loss of the Temples and the exile of the Jewish people made it much harder for mankind to access these messages. The Jewish people have paid an enormous price for holding true to our values, for being the bearers of an important message of morality for all of mankind. On Tisha B’Av we focus on this pain, we weep tears for all the bloodshed, forced conversions, expulsions and suffering that we have endured. 

The following apocryphal story is told of the great French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte. He once was travelling through a small Jewish town in Europe. He entered a synagogue. There he saw an incredible sight. Men and women weeping. They were sitting on the floor on small stools holding candles while reading from books. The synagogue had an elaborate chandelier but only a few candles were lit. If not for the small candle lights the magnificent synagogue would have been in complete darkness. It was a gloomy and sad sight to behold. 

Napoleon asked why the people were weeping and wanted to know what misfortune had happened here. An enlightened Jewish French officer told him that nothing new and terrible had happened. The Jewish people had a custom to gather once a year on a day called the ninth day of Av, the day that marks the destruction of the Jewish people's Temple. Twice they built a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and both were destroyed. After their second Temple was destroyed the people were scattered all over the world and sold as slaves. Some escaped and built their homes world over. Somehow the Jewish people exist without their country and their Temple.

In order to commemorate these sad events they gather once a year in synagogue. There they fast, pray, and read sad prophetic writings concerning the destruction of their Temple and land. What we see in this town is happening in all Jewish communities.

Napoleon inquired as to how many years have they been doing this and was over 2000 years. Upon hearing this Napoleon exclaimed, "A nation that cries and fasts for over 2,000 years for their land and Temple will surely be rewarded with their Temple."

Tisha B’Av is a day to reflect on the pain and suffering that the Jewish people have endured since the birth of our people. When we choose to block out or ignore pain we are unable to learn positive lessons from it either.

On Tisha B’Av we allow ourselves to shed a tear, but never a tear of despair, only from the wellsprings of hope for a better future.

- May 15th 2012

About the Author

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