A beloved father and husband embarked on a long journey overseas. The ship upon which he traveled was reported lost at sea. The vessel was presumed sunken, and all of its passengers dead. The man’s family was shattered. His friends were shocked, but with the passing of time their memory of him grew dimmer and dimmer. His family though refused to be consoled and never stopped grieving. After some time, seemingly out of nowhere, the man returned home alive and well. All of his friends were delighted and wished him well. His family though, was ecstatic and celebrated jubilantly. The home that for so long was filled with bitter mourning was now filled with overwhelming joy.
We Jews are in the midst of a period of morning. Each year three weeks of the Jewish calendar, beginning with the 17th of the month of Tamuz and culminating with the 9th of the month of Av, are designated as a time to reflect and to actively grieve over the destruction and loss of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem because during these days Jerusalem was sieged and the temple was burned to the ground. Many of the mourning practices are similar to those of a person who has recently lost a loved one. We don’t make weddings or listen to music. Many don’t shave, take haircuts, or buy new clothing. On the last of these days, Tisha B’ Av, Jews around the world will fast, sit on the floor, and cry.
Why all the tears? What do events that happened thousands of years ago have to do with me?
The Beit HaMikdash, Holy Temple, was a remarkable edifice. Architecturally it was one of the wonders of the world. What we lost though, was much more than a building. The Beit HaMikdash was the place where God’s presence rested amongst our people. With the destruction of that special resting place within his people, God’s presence, in a way, was removed. Our relationship with God became more of a long distance relationship than the close intimate one we once enjoyed. God is still actively involved in every aspect of our lives, but some of the benefits of closeness have faded away. What God’s presence afforded us, as much as anything else, was quality of clarity in life. Think about any trial, tribulation, challenge, or difficulty we may encounter in our lives. What is most troubling about that challenge? Is it the difficulty itself? Is it the pain we that we experience? If we honestly reflect we may realize that what really challenges us is that we simply don’t understand why we are being challenged with the trial at hand. We lack the clarity to see the whole picture. God’s presence would illuminate our lives and allow us to see and understand.
This is why we cry. For thousands of years we have sat in exile. Not simply expelled from a land or evicted from a precious place but love sick for an intimate relationship with our creator that has very much slipped away. A relationship we once knew that once allowed us the vision needed to properly navigate the obstacles of life.
Our sages tell us that in a future time, Tisha b’ Av, the saddest day of the year will turn to a joyous festival. Like the family who refused to forget their beloved father, always pained by his absence, may all of our people be filled with joy and celebration when God’s holy presence returns its proper place amongst us, his children. Speedily in our times.