Author’s Note: We may advise that younger girls read this selection with a parent or trusted older mentor, as suffering and tragedy are discussed, and may evoke mildly graphic images.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to relive the times of the Holy Temple? Who would you see? What would you do? How would you feel? A few weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of going on a Birthright trip with the Friendship Circle of Philadelphia. In Israel we got to see many fun and historical sites, but my most touching moment was when we got to visit the Old City of Jerusalem. As you walk through the Old City you can see so many people touring it. One not only tours the Old City, but sees a place that remains holy for Jews forever. The Kotel and its ancient history is what remains standing to this day from the Temple, and is what is sacred to the Jewish people. I went to the Kotel with the group to daven along, and wrote my very own letter to put inside. When you place a letter in the Kotel it can include anything you ask for or want to say. It could be Psalms from Tehillim or it could your very own personal prayer between you and Hashem. Visiting the Kotel is an uplifting experience for many people, especially if you’ve never been to the Kotel before. The Kotel being one of the most holy places from anticipation alone, the visit is emotional and uplifting.
Let’s trace back and build a picture of what the times of the Beis Hamikdash were like for the Jewish people when it stood. As we go into the month of Av, we remember and fast on Tisha B’Av – the day that we mourn for the loss of our very own Beis Hamikdash.
Tisha B’Av takes place on the 9th of Av and is observed not only for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, but five tragic events occurred in total:
- Hashem decreed that the Jewish people in the desert would not be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael.
- The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed by the Babylonians.
- The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed by the Romans.
- The great metropolis of Betar was devastated, and its hundreds of thousands of residents were killed.
The Beis Hamikdash and its surroundings were ploughed under. The destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash was the beginning of the exile that we still are suffering to this day. It was caused by the many wrongdoings of the Jewish people as we see in our prayers, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” When we make a mistake or do wrong, but do Teshuva, we automatically eliminate the effect of the exile which we are praying will come to an end.
Is the exile with or without purpose? Is it just a punishment for wrongdoing? It’s not without purpose and it’s not just punishment for wrongdoing. There’s an ultimate goal which couldn’t be reached unless first undergoing the terrible trial of exile. The Alter Rebbe says that, “Descent is for the purpose of ascent.” The descent of the Jewish people in exile is for the purpose of reaching spiritual heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.
It’s also important on Tisha B’ Av to remember the loss of loved ones, and other sad events that occurred, such as the Holocaust. I’ll never forget that rainy Thursday morning when I was headed home from the Birthright Israel trip and heard the very sad news from my Mom that her father – my Grandfather of blessed memory – had just passed away. When I heard this news it was very heartbreaking and filled me with many mixed emotions. This reminds me of the book of Megillat Eicha which describes the horrifying events including the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
How do you describe real suffering and what it’s like when your world collapses? Imagine you live in the times of the Second Temple and everything is peaceful. You feel like you’re in heaven and can walk anywhere you would like throughout the city of Jerusalem. You soon feel G-d’s presence as you approach the steps that lead you into the Beis Hamikdash. You love your life and enjoy everything you love to do. Your life was based on a more direct connection to holiness; you are where you have an easier time connecting with G-dliness. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, everything isn’t always what it seems to be. You hear a big loud noise – “BANG!!!” People you don’t know start breaking down walls, knocking brick by brick down and then you realize something’s not right. “You can see the city of Betar being conquered by people called Romans and then you see people being killed in the streets. Bit by bit you run as fast as you can and then you are sitting in solitude. You find widowers starving like beggars on the street. As you’re walking along, you find the princess – Zion – among the nations, weeping bitterly in the night. She has no one to comfort her because she was betrayed by her lovers and friends who were once close and are now her enemies. She despairs: All her children are now captives the enemy. The daughter of Zion has lost all her splendor. As you watch, her leaders, once like deer, walk on without pasture and without strength before the pursuer. This is the pain that befell you which Hashem has inflicted on the day of His wrath. You feel hopeless and feel there’s no one to save you, not even the king’s army. You weep and moan; your spirit is far from you because you know the enemy has prevailed. Hashem has expressed His anger upon you, clouding the Daughter of Zion. He cast down from Heaven the glory of Israel with his wrath. Then you see the harshness worsen as the enemy cuts down in fierce anger and destroys everything. You watch this and it frightens you; the terror makes you shiver as if you’re standing in the cold without anything to keep you warm. You run but there is nowhere else to turn. You find a hiding spot where you can survive with only very little to eat and drink. You feel your teeth chattering”* as you began to shiver. You feel it’s all over and there’s nothing you can do.
But then you see Hashem’s light, and this helps you realize what you need to fix. You slowly correct this big chillul Hashem, transforming it into a kiddush Hashem, which leads to the promised coming of redemption. Even though we’re in exile, there is so much we can do to bring Moshiach today. “The entire raison d’etre of our exile is to attain the wealth of a higher spiritual level than we had before.” So to this day, you continue to do every mitzvah there is to do, from keeping kosher to giving tzedakah. You will continue to carry on the mesorah. Moshiach will come; don’t give up. Moshiach is coming now and he’s waiting to greet us as we all rise up.
As my personal loss of my grandfather was very heartbreaking, I regret that I never got to say goodbye, and I should’ve spent more time with him. This made me realize time goes fast, and how we must recognize the good in every Jew; the Jewish people must appreciate, and show our love and respect for one another, for we are all brothers and sisters; and we see the love and kindness Hashem has for us. Sometimes, we neglect to respect Him as our Creator, the G-d who will grant us Moshiach, if we do our part in Ahavas Yisroel.
Then, I will see my grandfather again. I know he will be waiting to greet me here in Yerushalayim as the trumpets blow louder than shofars. We are here, and will be in the third Beis Hamikdash that we had been praying for so many years, now finally here. We did it, and we have now come home.
Happy is he who considers the poor; the Lord will save on the day of evil.
The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; he is called happy on earth; and You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The Lord will strengthen him on his sick bed; whenever he is prostrate You will heal all his illnesses.
I said, “Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against You.”
My enemies speak evil of me: “When shall he die, and his name perish?”
And if one comes to see me, he speaks vanity; his heart gathers iniquity to itself; when he goes out, he tells it.
All who hate me whisper together against me; against me they plot my harm.
They say, “An evil disease cleaves fast to him, and from where he lies he shall rise up no more.”
Even my own close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may pay them back.
By this I know that You favor me, because my enemy does not triumph over me.
And as for me, You uphold me in my integrity, and You set me before Your face forever.
Blessed be the Lord G-d of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.
*Note: Italicized portion of this paragraph in quotation marks is based on Megillat Eicha, sourced from: Tisha B’Av Adapted Address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Translated by Sichos in English.