We read in the book of Lamentations (Eichah) on the eve of Tisha B’Av:
Alas! Lonely sits the city once great with people. She that was great among nations is become like a widow…
The city referred to is of course Jerusalem, where a series of calamities occurred on this date throughout Jewish history. The two major ones were the destructions of the first and second Temples.
The great poet Chaim Nachman Bialik imagined the scene:
The Temple Mount still smoked. Piles of ash, mounds of cinders, smoldering brands lay in heaps; hissing embers tumbled together, glowed like stacks of carbuncle and jacinth in the silence of dawn. The angels trembled…their song that morning was a hushed lament, the murmur of a still, small voice…
The Book of Lamentations ends on a note of despair: “Or hast Thou utterly rejected us? Art Thou exceedingly angry with us?”
Despair, however, is not typical of the Jewish view of history. Despair can be corrosive, so it is always tempered by hope; otherwise we could not survive. That is why we conclude the reading by repeating the second to last verse as the final words: “Turn us unto Thee, O Lord, that we may be turned. Renew our days as of old.”
The 9th of Av has long stood as a symbol of the persecution of the Jewish people and their suffering in exile. To the Kabbalists, the 9th of Av represented the world’s incompleteness and the great need for the return of the Holy Presence to Jerusalem with the rebuilding of the Temple.
Many Jews believe the birth of modern Israel has negated the need to fast and mourn for the fall of Zion. Alas, we are not free of war and terrorism and we still yearn for the Final Redemption.
The value of the Tisha B’Av fast lies not only in remembering the past and applying its lessons to the present but also in recognizing the miraculous nature of our continued existence.
This Tisha B’Av, let us intensify our prayers for true peace as well as the unity of the Jewish people, whose divine destiny awaits fulfillment.