We are now in the period of the nine days, which throughout generations remains as a significant mourning period. The purpose of the observance of this time has not changed. With this in mind our motivation to mourn the tragedies of our own people should be greater. Hopefully, the desire and willingness to reflect on our own misdeeds will be stronger.
Our First Temple was burnt down by Nebuzaradon and his legions, and again our Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans headed by Titus. These periods marked our history as the fall of Jerusalem and the fall of Zion. What caused this? We learn that the sins of Israel that caused the First Temple’s destruction were brought about by idolatry, murder and immorality. These three sins, against God, against one’s self and one’s neighbor were predominant at that time. The second Temple’s demise was due to baseless hatred of others, which also causes a person to sin against, God, the self and others. I believe there is no difference. If God is not predominant in one’s mind and life then every sin is possible as one sin leads to another sin. We were greatly influenced by other nations and idolatry permeated our lives. Our evil, corrupt ways made us turn against our brethren and our hatred toward each other stemmed from a preoccupation and worship of the self. Murder and immorality are a natural result of this self worship, our punishment was justified and we were forced into exile.
Today we still suffer in our dispersion, even though we deny it. We’re despised and still hated by other nations. Although we’ve survived, we still haven’t learned our lesson and still allow the false ideas of society to rule our lives. To cling to God and to the Torah as our real source of strength is what we haven’t learned to do. We haven’t learned to treat Torah as our most precious possession. As the world around us continues in endless self-pursuit and deification, power and riches, we have to pull ourselves out of this trap and cling to God. Our corrupt culture fosters endless possessions and pleasure as an end in itself, which is not the barometer for peace of mind and happiness in life. Morality and righteousness can’t exist without God. The philosophy and worship of an “anything goes” mentality has seeped into Judaism. We’ve become lazy, we don’t question this philosophy and we give in rather than think about how it has tainted our lives. When will we realize that only the will of God rules every aspect of life and we must turn to our Torah for insight and truth? This is the greatest investment we can make in life, to search for truth and uphold kindness. We can once again become a great and holy people who govern the world. This is what being in exile should make us think about. Through the punishment of our Temples destruction and our being forced into exile we should realize what we are supposed to be. Our mission is to sanctify God’s name throughout the world, while we show and declare our true purpose in life. Our love for one another should grow because we are one family and share a covenant and a purpose as the teachers of truth.
So we mourn not only the actual loss of the Temple, but more importantly that we strayed so far away from our true purpose. Today while we do have the land of Israel we are still so far removed from God’s truth and Israel’s actual intended purpose. There is no Temple, which is the center of divine service where the life of the Jewish people is firmly established. This is the one place designated to us in order to destroy idolatry but we disobeyed. “We denied the Lord and said He is not, you served idols”, “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not.” Jeremiah, Verse 12. The Rambam says: “only one Temple has been appointed” by God to stand in Israel, “in the place that the Lord shall choose” Deuteronomy 12:26. We have no King, no Sanhedrin or established government of Jewish law in the land. All of this is what is truly sad. Other nations still rule us and other disgraceful and corrupt ideologies still plague the land of Israel today. The spirit of Zion is based on our unity, communal life and love for one another as a Klal and is how we are to live in our own land. We think that life is good outside and inside the land but we fool ourselves by thinking this, our status as a nation remains exiled. As a nation in exile or not, our lives should revolve around the sanctification of God’s name in the world. When God redeemed us, He took us to Him as a nation and we declared ourselves as a people filled with the love of God and the wisdom of Torah. That is what God created us to be and is “what” our true purpose is.
When we fast next Thursday on the Ninth of Av, it should be taken very seriously. It is not a day to just abstain from food and self-gratification. It is a day of fasting together with mourning that should bring us to a realization of what the source of sin really is, the continuous search for pleasure. With this understanding, hopefully each of us will become more aware of our endless self-indulgent nature. As much as want to deny it we should force ourselves to recognize how big our ego really is and to further recognize our preoccupation to always want to satisfy it. As we realize the pathetic state we are in we can use this day as another opportunity to draw closer to God individually and as a Klal through repentance. This day is a means to return to and embrace what God has defined for us as our real purpose in life. Every day is a day for repentance according to the Rambam. To repent as a Klal is an additional gift.
We should truly mourn on the Ninth of Av, and weep pitifully for ourselves. We are lost and so far away from God’s truth even though we were chosen and we were told: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” Leviticus 26:12.