Today marks Tisha B’Av (Hebrew for “the 9th of the month of Av”). According to tradition, both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this same day. Therefore, it is a somber day marked by fasting and listening the book of Lamentations, hauntingly chanted. Though not one of the more familiar books to most Jews, it is shared with Christians, and perhaps a place for interfaith couples to find some common ground. Many of the traditions observed today are ones also observed on Yom Kippur, like fasting and abstaining from sexual relations. But somehow, atoning for personal and communal sins on Yom Kippur feels more relevant to me than mourning for the destruction of the Temples.
Every year I struggle with Tisha B’av and its relevance, always looking to infuse the day with new meaning. Perhaps part of the struggle is that I can’t mourn for the destruction of the Temple when a vibrant Israel and a rebuilt Jerusalem continues to enrich me. But friends in Israel, which just weeks ago seemed serene—albeit constantly vigilant of terrorist activity—are spending their time in bomb shelters. Unfortunately, I look at the world and find too many reasons to be sad and mournful. So do we fast today to mourn the tragedies? Do we experience it the way our ancestors did, in a posture of penitence and self-reflection, given all that is going on in the Middle East?
Whatever decisions we make with regard to observance (some also choose a middle road and end the fast midday), we pray that just as our people experienced the joy of eventual return to Jerusalem following the destruction of the Temple and the exile that followed, we may soon see a day of peace and a return to the tranquility of holiness in the Land.