Why do we cry on Tisha B’Av? What is it that we really mourn?
Is it possible that we mourn for thousands of years over bricks and stones? Over the demolition of buildings?
These questions burn in our mind throughout Tisha B’Av. How many of us question in the depths of our hearts the meaning behind this solemn day. Yet, how many of us have never received an answer that has satisfied the deep longing of our souls?
My friends, let me share with you what it is that we mourn, but to do so, you must close your eyes and travel back with me through the channels of time. Our destination? The first Tisha B’Av in Jewish history.
Our sandaled feet tread over the sand of the desert, the wind howling in our ears. We adjust our scarves over our faces to keep the sand from blowing in our eyes as we head back to the camp, a pillar of fire flaring up from our destination, a lighthouse in the sea of sand we are coming from.
”]A bitter cry reaches our ears from the camp closest to us. We place our hands on our daggers, rushing over to see what is wrong. We see a family huddling inside of their tent, mourning the terrible news that the ten great Jewish leaders have brought back from the Promised Land. “We shall perish in that terrible land!”, screams the mother of the family. “We should have stayed in Egypt, it was much more comfortable there!”, yells the father of the house, ripping his robe as a sign of morning. The little children hide in the corner, terrified of the words coming from the mouths of their parents, hot tears streaming down their cheeks.
Suddenly, a voice is heard on high, and to those of us who are holy enough to hear it, Hashem Himself is heard speaking to the Jewish people – “You have chosen to cry tonight for nothing? I will ensure that you will cry on this day for generations!”
From that day forward, the calamities that occurred on Tisha B’Av have been numerous. The destruction of our First Temple. Followed by the destruction of our Second Temple. The massacred Jews of Beitar, their blood flowing down the hillsides. The expulsion from Spain. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Rabbi Eliezer Azkari, a student of the Arizal, explains what the sin of the spies were and what the is the solution (Sefer Charedim, Chapter 59):
וצריך כל איש ישראל לחבב את ארץ ישראל ולבא אליה מאפסי ארץ בתשוקה גדולה כבן אל חיק אמו, כי תחילת עווננו שנקבעה לנו בכייה לדורות יען מאסנו בה.
ובפדיון נפשנו מהרה יהיה כתיב: “כי רצו עבדיך את אבניה ואת עפרה יחוננו” ובהמשך כתוב “אתה תקום תרחם ציון”. ולפיכך היו האמוראים מנשקים עפרותיה ואבניה בבואם אליה.
And every person of Israel must cherish the Land of Israel and to come to her from the distant places of the earth with great desire, as a child [desires] the arms of his mother, for the beginning of our sin which has caused us to cry for generations – is due to our despising her [the Land of Israel].
And the redemption of our souls, may it be soon, will be as it is written: [first] “For your servants desired her stones and her dust” and afterwards it is written: “You will rise up and have mercy on Zion”. This is why the Amoraim kissed her earth and dust when they came to her.
The cause of Tisha B’Av was our rejection of the Land of Israel. Of leaving her. Of not wanting her. Of wanting other lands and to rest amongst other nations, and not dwell within her borders. This is the reason we mourn!
The destruction of our Temples was a punishment, since we were forced to leave her. The expulsion from Spain and every other exile, was because we did not dwell in her. The main focus of every event that happened on this day is due only to that which we have turned our back on the Land, and have desired cities and countries where we do not belong. This is the reason we cry, and still cry to this very day.
In our recent Jewish history, we also experienced a tragedy, far beyond our wildest imagination. We witnessed destruction which we never dreamed fathomable. We stood by and watched as thousands of Jews lives were ruined, and synagogues were destroyed to mere heaps of rubble and dust.
We felt the Earth shudder as the communities of Gush Katif were destroyed. We heard the Land cry as her children were ripped from her arms by people who considered themselves her soldiers. We felt our hearts stop as buses pulled away from the gates, orange ribbons scattered on the street, leaving the cities behind them to be desolate. We did so in silence, from the comfort of our own homes many thousands of miles away.
What happened to the settlements of Bedolah, Bnei Atzmon, Gadid, Gan Or, Ganei Tal, Kfar Darom, Kfar Yam, Kerem Atzmona, Morag, Neve Dekalim, Netzer Hazani, Pe’at Sade, Katif, Rafiah Yam, Shirat Hayam, Slav, Tel Katifa?
What happened to those orange-roofed houses that once symbolized Jewish pride in the Land of Israel? Where are the 10,000 fellow Jews that lived in the orange-roofed houses? What happened to those children who bloodied and beaten, saw the walls of their own houses collapse to the ground?
There were thousands of our fellow Jews, who loved the Land of Israel, who kept the Torah and mitzvot with genuine dedication, who raised the banner of Am Yisrael high for all of us – and how have we thanked them?
My Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Peretz shlit”a, relates:
I was once sitting in my office when a young, Bais Yaakov girl came to speak with me. She was in tears, and I asked her to tell me what happened. She told me she had come to her high school one morning wearing an orange wristband, in solidarity with the Jews of Gush Katif. When her principal saw the wristband, she summoned her to her office immediately and declared that she was being thrown out of school for wearing a “heretical” wristband!
I went to her principal and told her that she should be ashamed of herself. I said: “Look at how big of a deal your community makes when a terrible mother starves her child to near death! You burn dumpsters, uproot stoplights, you gather in masses to protest the “blasphemy of G-d’s name, like fools! Where were you when ten-thousand of your Jewish brothers and sisters were dragged from their homes against their will? Jews who keep Torah and mitzvot on a much higher level than you, Jews who learn Torah with true hearts, unlike you, and Jews who actually care about the Land of Israel much more than you do!”
My friends – this Tisha B’Av, we must awaken to the truth we mourn over. We mourn over the fact that Jews still live in exile. Over the fact that Jews still feel that the nations of the world are our friends and always will be. Over the fact that Jews call their houses in New York and Los Angeles home. Over the fact that we, as a people have turned our back at the Land of Israel, and cause ourselves to remain in exile.
This Tisha B’Av, let us at least not turn our backs on those Jews who lived and breathed Eretz Yisrael. Hopefully, they will be able to return to their Land once again, and raise that orange flag, above their rebuilt homes and synagogues, and may we be there to see it happen.