S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 2 August 2003 / 4 Av 5763

Lest We Forget

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Reflections on the Fast of Tisha BAv
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

We Jews have a long memory.

Something that happened almost two thousand years ago comes back to haunt our collective consciousness as if it happened yesterday.

This is what so impressed the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte when he looked in on a synagogue in Paris on Tisha BAv and saw Jews sitting on the floor chanting lamentations and shedding tears. After inquiring about the cause for their mourning and hearing that it was the destruction of their Holy Temple in Jerusalem he expressed astonishment that he had heard nothing about this tragedy from his reliable intelligence sources. When it was explained that this event took place close to 1800 years earlier he reportedly declared that a people who can still mourn for their Temple and their homeland after so many years have a real hope for regaining them.

Napoleon distinguished something unique about the long memory of the Jewish people but could not truly understand its meaning.

A Jew mourns the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the two thousand year exile which followed not out of a sense of nostalgia for the glory and prosperity of bygone days. For a Jew loyal to his conviction that he is the proud member of "a nation of priests and a holy people" who were chosen to receive the Torah at Sinai and to serve as "a light unto the nations" there is much more involved in remembering the past.

Rambam points out (Laws of Fasting 5:1) that the purpose of the fast days which were ordained by our Prophets is to reflect on the mistakes made by our ancestors which were the catalysts for the tragedies which took place on those days mistakes which we perpetuate in our own days. By learning the lesson of history we can hope to avoid repeating it as we take to heart the need to correct those mistakes and fully return to the lofty spiritual level with which we once served our Creator.

Such a full return requires the return of all of our people to our Holy Land and the return of a Beis Hamikdash in which we can encounter the Divine Presence and beam its rays of holiness to an entire world. As long as we lack these indispensable ingredients for our spiritual perfection we feel the pain of being unfulfilled in regard to our historic destiny and we weep!

But weeping and fasting are only the beginning of what Rambam calls "an opening of the heart" to a correcting of the mistakes of past and present. On Tisha BAv both the first Beis Hamikdash and the second one were destroyed. Reflecting on those tragedies leads to an analysis of the sins which were responsible for both of those tragedies.

The first Beis Hamikdash, say our Talmudic Sages, was lost because of the grave sins of idol worship, sexual immorality and murder. These are sins which repeat themselves in every generation in gross or subtle forms. We may not be living in a time when Jews bow down to actual idols, but how many of our people have abandoned their ancient faith for other religions, cults or political ideologies? And do we share in their guilt by failing to properly reach out and educate them? Immorality parades before us in the permissiveness of dress and unrestrained interaction of the sexes, and reaches new depths with the efforts to legitimize gay activity. Have we done enough to condemn this mode of behavior which is wreaking havoc on so many families and society in general? Murder is the extremist form of violence but its subtler forms of physical and verbal abuse are so prominent that even in the secular schools in our Jewish state there is so much violence by pupils towards teachers and fellow pupils, and the number of battered wives and abused children keeps growing.

Are our government and our educational system doing enough to control this modern form of murder?

During the second Beis Hamikdash period these mistakes were corrected because the trauma of a 70-year exile shocked our ancestors into repentance. But something else went wrong. The rebuilt Beis Hamikdash was once again destroyed and we were once again exiled because of the sin of "unjustified hatred" of one Jew for another. Two millennia of fasting for this mistake has still not completely cured us. Lack of tolerance, aggressive competitiveness and destructive dissension continue to plague our families and our communities. The lesson we must learn from our fasting on this Tisha BAv if we wish to build a glorious future rather than relive the consequences of ignoring history is that we must individually and collectively eliminate from our lives all of the aforementioned sins. Faith, morality and concern for human life and dignity must eradicate the sins that caused the first destruction. Unlimited love for our fellow Jew must replace the intolerance and hatred which caused our present exile.

If we do our part in committing ourselves to this goal we can be sure that Hashem will do His part and send Moshiach to return all of us to our land, build the Beis Hamikdash and turn the sad day of Tisha BAv into a day of celebration.

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