This sad period beguns with the fast of the 17th of Tamuz when 5 tragedies occurred; 1. The breaking of the first tablets of the Ten Commandments. 2. The cessation of the daily offering during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. 3. The burning of the Torah by Apostomos. 4. The placing of an idol in the Temple. 5. The breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 69 CE. This mourning period concludes with the fast of Tisha Beav, which commemorates a list of catastrophes, severe and inhuman; 1. In 1313 BCE after the spies slander the land of Israel, this day was set aside for tragedies. 2. Both Temples were destroyed on that day. 3. In 133 CE the city of Betar, where all the Rabbis resided, was brutally destroyed and its residents butchered [it is estimated by historians that there were over 2 Million residents]. 4.A year after the destruction, the Romans plowed the Temple mount. 5. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE. 6. The edict of expulsion of the Jews from Spain was signed on March 31 1492, and took effect four months later on Tisha Beav. 7. The Holocaust began!!! etc. It is obviously not an opportune time! The Talmud [Taanis 26b] declares, as the month of Av begins one must reduce acts of rejoicing. The Shulchan Arukh [551:1] sets it as a Halacha and therefore many things that bring joy are forbidden, such as getting married or listening to music, as it is a mourning time. Honestly, the above events occurred a long time ago and it is difficult to add darkness to our daily lives as we barely stand on our feet. Instead we need more joy not more reasons to grieve! Besides, isn’t joy in the performance of Mitzvos and the love of Hashem mandatory? One who refrains from them is worthy of punishment, as the Verse states in Ki Savo, that the reason for the curses is; “Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d, with joy and with goodness of heart” [Devarim 28:47], and the Rambam [Lulav 8:15] sets it as a mandatory Mitzva. How are we supposed to mourn joyfully? The Holy Baal Shem teaches us that “wherever your mind is, your feet will take you.” All answers lie in the source, in the first event. The Yalkut [Matos, 393] informs that while Moshe was descending the Mountain with the tablets, he saw that the letters were flying away as he was approaching the place where the golden calf was made. He understood that it was a Heavenly hint that the Jews did not deserve the Torah, and then broke the tablets. This sent a shockwave and the entire world felt silent. A tragedy of indescribable proportion had occurred, which effect will be felt till end of times. The Gemara [Bava Kama 54b] states the Hashem in his infinite goodness and love for us, despite the moment of justified anger a present was handed to us. In the first tablets only 21 out of the 22 letters and one was missing, and therefore the mourning period is only 21 days, a day per letter. The Talmud [Sanhedrin 104b] says that this is the reason the Megillah Eicha is composed with sonnets starting with the alphabet [sentences are starting in Alphabetical order] to stress that the occurrence is due to the letters of the tablets that were desecrated with the making of the golden calf. So, where is the 22nd letter? We know that nothing happens incidentally, Hashem controls every detail, why then was the 17th of Tamuz selected for this tragedy? The Talmud [Ibid] relates; “Rabbi Chanina ben Agil asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba: For what reason is the word “good” not stated in the first tablets, whereas in the latter tablets the word “good” is stated? … Rav Ashi replied: Since the first tablets were destined to be broken. Had the word “good” been mentioned, they may have thought all good has, God forbid, ceased from Israel. Therefore, only the second version, contains the word good, so that there would always be good for the Jewish people.” The holy Bnei Yisaschar reveals based on this teaching, that the date of the 17 is not incidental, as it comes to teach us that despite the hardship Hashem provides “good” [טוב [which numerical value is 17 to the Jews. The holy Chassam Sofer derives it from the verse [Tehilim 73:1] “Hashem does only good to the Bnei Yisrael”, the translation of “only” is “ אך “which numerical value is 21, to hint the 21 letters that were desecrated, for which we have 2 days of mourning. Thus, despite that, Hashem’s goodness is still predominant. If it is so, why are then mourning? Besides, if we count the days from the 17th of Tamuz till the 9th of Av, there is a total of 22 days and not 21? The Zohar states that when Hashem decided to create the world each letter of the alphabet approached Him to offer that it should be used to create the world. When the letter “Teith” approached, Hashem refused as the world to come [Olam Haba] was already created with it, as it contains the celestial lights. Therefore, the letter “Teith” was not included in the first tablets but only in the second ones, to provide us the “Heavenly Goodness” through it. Hence, this is why the worst day of the year is the 9th of Av, which 9 numerical value is “Teith”, to stress us not to despair as this day will become the most joyous festival. The holy Apter Rav reveals, that despite its hardship, the 9 th day of Av is not included in the mourning period as it is a Moed, a festival. It is the day the Mashiach was born and the most auspicious day for his coming. The first two Temples were destroyed to make room for the third and eternal one that will descend from the before our eyes. The entire world will witness that miracle. Now, to the question why so many calamities have occurred on that day through history, the answer is simple! There are two sorts of people that fall to the ground. One that has suffer a loss, which will never be recovered, such as the loss of a close relative. The other one is on a mission, he’s digging in a diamond mine, he does not mind the hard work or his bleeding hands, as he secures his future. On Tisha Beav we are digging out the lights of the Mashiach. This is the holiest possible mission that was entrusted with us, bringing the redemption. This is the reason the Talmud [Makos 24a] recounts that when Rabbi Akiva saw the carnage on the Temple mount he laughs, as it is now ready for the final redemption. Tisha Beav is not a day of despair and depression; in contrary it is a day of hope and the biggest light that will ever occur will then shine. The numerical value of Tisha Beav is 780, which is 30 times the name of Hashem [30 x 26 =780] and the very numerical value of “Mashiach of Hashem David son of Yishai” [ ישי בן דוד ה”יהו משיח = באב תשעה .[The word “Av” is composed by two letters “Aleph, Beith”. Aleph is referring to the first tablets, as then the Torah started with the word “Anochi”. Beith represents the second tablets that start with “Beireishis”. This is the opportunity we have to correct all the misdeeds that have negatively impacted the Torah and the Shechinah. Hereafter is the reason why we must redouble our efforts this year to bring the salvation! Beginning in 463 BCE, Jeremiah prophesized about the Babylonian threat and warned the Jews of the terrible devastation they would incur if they did not stop worshipping idols and mistreating each other. But his melancholic prophecies, recorded in the Book of Jeremiah, went largely unheeded by the Jews, who mocked and persecuted him. Some eighteen years before the destruction of the Temple, Jeremiah was imprisoned by King Jehoiakim due to his persistent prophecies foretelling the fall of Jerusalem. G-d then spoke to Jeremiah [ch. 36]: “Take for yourself a scroll and write upon it all the words that I have spoken to you concerning Israel and concerning Judah … Perhaps the house of Judah will hear all the evil that I plan to do to them, in order that they should repent, each man of his evil way, and I will forgive their iniquity and their sin.” Jeremiah summoned his devoted disciple, Baruch ben Neriah, and dictated to him a heart-rending and graphic warning of the coming doom; this prophecy eventually became known as the Book of Lamentations (“Eichah”). In this scroll, Jeremiah described and mourned the devastation that G-d would wreak upon Jerusalem and the Holy Land: children starving; cannibalism on the part of hunger-crazed mothers, the city abandoned. Baruch ben Neriah followed Jeremiah’s instructions. He publicly read the scroll in the Holy Temple. When the king was informed of this event, he asked that the scroll be read to him. After hearing but a few verses, the king grabbed the scroll and callously threw it into the fireplace. When Jeremiah was informed of the king’s actions, he sat and composed another chapter that he added to the book. This Book of Lamentations is read in the synagogue every year on the eve of the Ninth of Av. The Assyrians had long dominated the Middle East, but their power was waning. Even with the help of the Egyptians, who were getting stronger, they were not able to fight off the Babylonians. These three empires were engaged in a power struggle, and the Kingdom of Judah was caught in the middle. In 434 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah tried to form an alliance with Egypt. The Jews thought, despite Jeremiah’s prophecies, that this would keep them safe. But instead, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, marched on Judah. He pillaged Jerusalem and deported tens of thousands of Jews to his capital in Babylon; all the deportees were drawn from the upper classes, the wealthy, and craftsmen. Ordinary people were allowed to stay in Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar appointed a puppet king over Judah, Zedekiah. But Zedekiah, though G-d fearing and righteous, was foolishly courageous, and (despite Jeremiah’s repeated admonitions not to) he tried to break free from the Babylonians. So, Nebuchadnezzar marched on Jerusalem again. This time he would not be content with making Judah into a vassal state. On the tenth of Tevet, 425 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar began the siege of Jerusalem. Thirty months later, in the month of Tammuz, after a long siege during which hunger and epidemics ravaged the city, the city walls were breached. King Zedekiah tried to escape through an eighteen-milelong tunnel, but he was captured in the plains of Jericho by enemy soldiers who, while chasing a deer, saw him emerging. He was brought before Nebuchadnezzar in Riblah. There Zedekiah’s sons and many other Jewish personages were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out, and he was led in chains to Babylon. On the seventh day of Av, the chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, Nebuzaradan, began the destruction of Jerusalem. The walls of the city were torn down, and the royal palace and other structures in the city were set on fire. Our Sages say that when Nebuzaradan entered the Temple he found the blood of Zechariah seething. He asked the Jews what this phenomenon meant, and they attempted to conceal the scandal, but he threatened to comb their flesh with iron combs. So they told him the truth: “There was a prophet among us who chastised us, and we killed him. For many years now his blood has not rested.” Nebuzaradan said, “I will appease him.” He then killed the members of the Great and Small Sanhedrins, then he killed youths and maidens, and then schoolchildren. Altogether, he killed 940,000 people. Still the blood continued to boil, whereupon Nebuzaradan cried: “Zechariah, Zechariah! I have slain the best of them; do you want all of them destroyed?” At last, the blood sank into the ground [Talmud, Gittin 57b]. On the ninth day of Av, toward evening, the Holy Temple was set on fire and destroyed. The fire burned for 24 hours. Our Sages taught: When the first Holy Temple was destroyed, groups of young priests gathered with the keys to the Sanctuary in their hands. They ascended the roof and declared: “Master of the World! Since we have not merited to be trustworthy custodians, let the keys be given back to You.” They then threw the keys toward Heaven. A hand emerged and received them, and the priests threw themselves into the fire [Talmud, Taanis 29b]. Everything of gold and silver that still remained was carried off as loot by the Babylonian soldiers. All the beautiful works of art with which King Solomon had once decorated and ornamented the holy edifice were destroyed or taken away. The holy vessels of the Temple that could be found were brought to Babylon. The high priest Seraiah and many other high officials and priests were executed. In addition to the 940,000 people killed in the aforementioned incident, millions more were killed inside and outside of the city. Many thousands of the people that had escaped the sword were taken prisoner and led into captivity in Babylon, where some of their best had already preceded them. Only the poorest of the residents of Jerusalem were permitted to stay on to plant the vineyards and work in the fields. Thus ended the empire of David and Solomon; thus, the magnificent city and Holy Temple were destroyed. Thus G-d punished His people for deserting Him and His laws. All this had been predicted in the Torah, and it truly came to pass with all the horror of which Moshe had warned. Jeremiah also promised that the Jewish people would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. That would come to pass seventy years later. Restore us to You, O G-d, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.
By Rabbi Fridmann * email@example.com * 305.985.3461
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