Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Makes Tisha Biav Such a Unique Fast Day?

What exactly is it that we are fasting for on Tisha Biav? It is treated more strictly than any other fast day and has many of the same laws as Yom Kippur, but why is this so?

The Gemorah in Taanis (26B) tells us that there were five tragic events that happened on Tisha Biav. The decree that the Jewish people should wander in the desert and not enter the land was given, The first and second Bais Hamikdashes were destroyed, the city of Beitar was destroyed, and Jerusalem was completely demolished.

These seem like very tragic events, but there can be several questions asked here. 1)Once we entered the land why would we still mourn the fact that our forefathers couldn't enter the land 40 years ago? 2)On the same note, why would we mourn for the first Bais Hamikdash? If we rebuilt the Bais Hamikdash and are mourning over the second Bais Hamikdash, there is no reason to mourn over the first, it was rebuilt. 3)Why are we mourning over a specific city that was destroyed that is not Jerusalem? So many other cities were destroyed and we do not mourn over their destruction. Also, there were many cities that were massacred by Romans, what makes Beitar so unique? 4)Finally, hasn't Jerusalem been rebuilt? Why are we mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem if we own it and have rebuilt it, except for the Bais Hamikdash which we already mourn?

It seems like what we are truly mourning over is potential that is wasted. All five tragedies are cases where Jews have a great potential, but waste it. What we are really mourning over is the fact that we had such great opportunities, but because of our own flaws, we were not able to seize them when we had the chance.

The first occurrence of a wasted opportunity was by the spies in the desert. G-D was ready to give us the land, but because 10 of the spies spoke lashon hora and we listened to it we were forced to wander 40 years in the desert. That was 40 years that could have been spent in Israel worshiping G-D and fulfilling all of the commandments in the Torah. However, because of the sin of the spies we ended up losing Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe before entering the land and we were not able to fulfill all of the commandments in the Torah, since they were not applicable yet.

The next two examples of wasted opportunity were the destruction of the two Bais Hamikdashes. Both of these were destroyed because the Jewish people were violating many commandments. It was because of the neglect of the Torah and commandments that G-D removed His house from being among us. Had we realized how special this house was, before it was too late, then we would still have His house instead of the Dome of the Rock in its place.

The last two tragedies mentioned in the Gemorah are the destruction of the city Beitar and the destruction of Jerusalem. These two events coincided with each other. Both of these tragedies are dependent upon the story of Bar Kochba (Bar Kosiba). Before going into the Bar Kochba story, the background of what was occurring at that time must be given. In the year 130 CE a new emperor, Hadrian, was appointed. He had promised the Jews that he would rebuild Jerusalem for them as a gift. Unfortunately, something happened and he decided that he would build Aelia Capitolina and never allow Jews to enter the city. To build this city Hadrian had the already destroyed city completely razed, including the temple mount area. As if this wasn't enough provocation, he then banned circumcision. In 132 when the Jewish people could no longer take the persecution and the injustice, they rebelled with their leader Bar Kochba.

At first Bar Kochba followed the advice of Rebbe Akiva and his victories were seen as signs that he was the Moshiach (redeemer). Rebbe Akiva himself said that he thought Bar Kochba was the Moshiach. Bar Kochba's success lasted for about 2 and a half years. Unfortunately, something happened and Bar Kochba no longer listened to the advice of Rebbe Akiva. He even made an alliance with the Samaritans! This was, of course, against the advice of Rebbe Akiva. After these events Rabbi Akiva realized that Bar Kochba was not the Moshiach and shortly thereafter in 135 CE Bar Kochba lost Jerusalem and a few months later his stronghold of Beitar was destroyed.

These are the events that we mourn on Tisha Biav, events that show a national waste of opportunity. If the nation did not listen to the Meraglim, they would have gone straight to Israel. If the nation would not have been sinning then the Bais Hamikdashes would not have been destroyed. If the nation would have done real repentance then the Bar Kochba rebellion would have been successful. These are all national failures that lead to national consequences. That is why we are remembering these tragedies, because they show us as a nation that wasted opportunity. These tragedies could have been avoided if we would have just seized the moment and overcome our evil inclinations. This is the lesson we must never forget and this is why Tisha Biav is so important.

No comments: