This coming week will commence the fast of the 9th of Av, which signifies, more than anything else, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temples. Regarding this fast, Our Sages said: “Anyone who mourns Jerusalem deserves to see its rejoicing, and those who do not mourn Jerusalem will not see its joy” (Taanit 30b). The Gerrer Rebbe, author of Sefat Emet, inquired why this rabbinic statement was formulated in the present tense (“deserves to see” – literally “merits and sees”) when we know that many of our best and brightest actually mourned the destruction and nevertheless never got to see Jerusalem rejoice.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, in his work, Kedushat Levi, gives a wonderful answer to this question, explaining that the Talmudic word for deserve/merit, “zocheh” is phonetically related to the term for refinement (“hizdakekut”). In other words, by mourning Jerusalem, one purifies himself and achieves the level of one who actually sees its rebuilding. Our daily business and routine wear down our emotions and sensitivities. We envelop ourselves in a thick cloak of apathy and cynicism. This spiritual coma is the root of all sin, causing us to accept as self-evident anything that happens to us. Not only do we forget how to evaluate what we have, we even grow accustomed to troubles and lack. Thus, it destroys motivation and ambition to make think better. This is comparable to a comatose patient in which he cannot feel or evaluate any contact or touch. He further cannot even feel when they cut his living flesh. The first instant that the patient feels pain is his happiest moment of all. It signifies that the patient is on the road to recovery. Pain bears witness to the beginning of convalescence and rehabilitation.
This rule applies to the Holy Temple and yearning for complete redemption as well. We tend to develop adaptability to cope with harsh realities. We quickly get used to car accidents, terror attacks, Kassams, the shirking of responsibility, and political corruption. From our perspective, every event is just another headline on the daily news that will be buried in a few days. Apathy prevents us from demonstrating and working with alacrity to repair deficiencies. Mourning, on the other hand, purifies us and reminds us what we should be striving for, and thereby fills us with longing to work energetically toward a brighter future.
“Anyone who does not mourn, does not merit, because since he forgot the greatness of the Holy Temple and the great joy in it, his soul is therefore not purified. Because of the extent of his materialism and physicality, he will not be able to receive Divine manifestation and the greatness of its pleasure and clarity” (Kedushat Levi, Collection). Moreover, mourning the Temple grants us an inner joy. The Gerrer Rebbe explains that the Temple was the center of the world’s joy, and it continues to give joy even to those generations who never saw it constructed. The way to merit the radiance of this joy from the destroyed Temple is by mourning, or, as the Sefat Emet wrote: “Now, in our generation, by mentioning the Temple, we can cling to the radiance of the Temple…now we merit that joy by mourning the Temple…by mourning, we merit sensing Jerusalem’s joy.”
This is also the reason why we invoke Jerusalem at the height of our joy. At all festivities, especially weddings, the joy is not complete without acknowledging the source of joy – the rejoicing in the Temple. This mourning is expressed under the wedding canopy by the shattering of a glass, which connects us to the Temple and enables us to strive for greater joy. This may be the source of the custom to say “Mazal Tov!” after the breaking of the glass, for only then does our joy incorporate the joy of the Temple.
This is also the source for the days of rejoicing and comfort that appear after Tisha B’Av, when the mourning of the 9th of Av connects us deeply and truly to the source of our lives and rescue us from the curse of apathy. Joy that stems from the cleansing mourning leads us safely toward the happiest days of all, as Our Sages expounded: “Rabbi Shimon b. Gavriel said: There were no days as joyous in Israel like the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur, during which the Israelite maidens…would go to the vineyards to dance…and it also says, ‘Go out and look, o daughters of Zion, at King Shlomo in the crown that his mother crowned him with on the day of his wedding, on the day his heart rejoices.’ ‘The day of his wedding’ refers to the giving of the Torah. ‘The day his heart rejoices’ refers to the construction of the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days, Amen” (Mishna Taanit 4:8).
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.
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