Why Tisha B’Av is worth fasting over
“Rabbi, I dare you to give me a convincing argument why I should bother to fast on Tisha B’Av. Just don’t get too preachy and guilt-mongering on me. Good luck!”
That’s a tall order. I don’t want you making personal choices based on my success or failure to inspire and inform, but I’ll attempt to make the case to care, maybe even fast, on this day.
Let’s start with the facts:
One thousand nine hundred fifty-two years ago, in the year 70 CE, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Romans. This Temple had been built hundreds of years earlier by Ezra, Nehemiah, and many others, and then later renovated by Herod (a psychopathic dictator who attempted to atone for his cruelty by renovating the Temple). The Romans destroyed the Temple and laid waste to large swaths of the Jewish population in the holy land.
About half a century before that, the Babylonians (modern-day Iraq) came from the east and destroyed the first Temple, built by King Solomon, the son of King David.
Both destructions happened on the same day on the Jewish calendar – the 9th of Av.
Other tragedies occurred on this day, including the 1290 expulsion of England’s Jews, and the 1492 banishment of all Jews from Spain. That’s the history of the day. Let’s explore the relevance.
The Temple in Jerusalem was more than a mere place of beauty, music, and sacrifices. It was the nerve centre of the world. G-d’s light was revealed and palatable in ways we cannot imagine. G-d had a home in this world, and we had a place to be elevated and to expose our best selves.
Every day we live in a world without a holy Temple – Beit Hamikdash – is a day of living in a world without its heart. A world without a heart is a tragedy worth grieving over.
When we fast on this day, we’re making a statement to ourselves and the world that no matter how long it’s been, we’ll never accept a world that has lost its way.
The more time that passes without the light and the heart, the greater the lack that is felt. The fact that almost two millennia have passed since we stood in the Temple is a madness that we’re unwilling to accept.
I would argue that Tisha B’Av is as – or maybe more – relevant as ever. After the past few years of international and local tragedies, our eyes are opened to the pain of this world. The cocoon and cottonwool were ripped from us, and we were forced to face the pain of this world, often at close range.
Fasting and crying on Tisha B’Av is an act of defiance against the cynicism that could creep in and say, “Get over it! Move on! Let bygones be bygones!”
No! We’ll not accept the terrible deaths that we’ve seen in our community. No, we’ll not accept the horrible rise in suicide and suicide attempts in our community. No, we’ll not accept the demolition of so many marriages, many of which could have and should have survived and thrived. No, we’ll not accept the addictions plaguing our youth (and many adults). No, we don’t accept a world of moral confusion and radical ideologies.
We’re fighting back by declaring that we’re not at peace with war. We cannot accept the unacceptable. We’ll not tolerate the intolerable. We’ll never cease fire.
This is why we fast. This is why we sit on low chairs. This is why we mourn.
And yet, on Tisha B’Av midday, we put away the toddler chairs. We start sitting like menschen again, even though the fast is still happening. Why? Because after grief, we must inject hope. Grief without hope is like a joke without a punchline – it leaves you empty. So instead, we turn our focus forward to a story of hope and promise.
And on Monday the music will be blasting again in the car because the music must go on.
Wishing you a meaningful Tisha B’Av.
More importantly, I ask you to join in prayer that Moshiach comes now so that we walk together into a world of peace and wholesomeness.
Yours truly (and hungry), Rabbi Levi Avtzon
- Rabbi Levi Avtzon is the rabbi at Linksfield Shul.