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Rabbi's Commentary The Meaning of Tisha b’Av

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

July 22, 2010

Dear Friend of Israel,

Earlier this week Jews around the world observed the fast of Tisha b'Av, a day of mourning set aside to remember all the catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history, particularly the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., respectively.

I’m usually in Israel for Tisha b'Av, though this year I’m spending the week at The Fellowship's Chicago office. As I spoke with my wife in Jerusalem the other day, she reminded me of our usual routine on Tisha b'Av: A walk to the area overlooking the Old City, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall, the last remaining portion of the Second Temple, whose destruction we mourn this day.

Instead, as I recently shared with The Fellowship's Chicago staff, this year I walked from work to synagogue through a bustling downtown Chicago neighborhood. I was struck by the activity around me people were out jogging, meeting friends for dinner, shopping, or rushing home to their families. I began to wonder how it’s possible for Jews outside of Israel to reflect on the destruction of the Temple thousands of years ago, or any of the tragedies that occurred on this date, in this atmosphere.

In Israel, where the great majority of people observe Tisha b'Av, it is different. Out of respect for the solemnity of this day, bars, stores, and other forms of entertainment are shut down. There are far fewer distractions, and it is easier to focus on the meaning of the day. So I commend those who came to my synagogue in Chicago on Tisha b'Av. The challenges to true observance Jews face outside of Israel make our coming together that much more important, and heighten the urgency of Tisha b'Av’s message.

And just what is that message? The Talmud - the rabbinic commentary on biblical law that is the cornerstone of the Jewish oral tradition - says that those who don't mourn over the Temple will not merit seeing it rebuilt. On the other hand, those who revisit and learn from past suffering will ultimately merit the joy of seeing the Temple’s rebuilding.

All of us go through periods of suffering. Tisha b'Av challenges us to remember our past difficulties, because only by doing so can we truly appreciate seasons of joy and blessing. Only then can we truly thank God when we emerge from that dark tunnel of despair.

The psalmist said: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God" (Psalm 43:5). Thus, as we grieve our individual pain and as Jews mourn their collective tragedies on Tisha b'Av, let us find hope in our God who redeems. And let us renew our pledge to pray to our redeeming God for that precious gift of shalom, peace.

Yechiel Eckstein

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein


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