Shakespearian actors and Jews have few things in common. 1) Both groups feel at home in New York. 2) Both groups pour over their source material, analyzing every letter, as if it were a love note. 3) And both groups have an ominous element, complete with tragic backstory, and downright eerie coincidences. For the actor, it is the play Macbeth. Most actors won’t say the play’s name in a theatre unless they are working on a production of Macbeth itself. Every actor has a story of misfortune that happened to them while working on the play. And if you look into the history, you will find countless examples of accidents that have befallen productions.
The Jews have Tishah B’Av
The name literally translates to the 9th [day of the month] of Av. The day mourns the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Which Temple? Both Temples. Yes. Both Temples were destroyed on the same day, hundreds of years apart from one another. It is a day of fasting and mourning as we as a people try to reconnect to that which we once had.
Though it is considered a Rabbinical holiday, Tishah B’av has its roots in the Torah. Once the Jews leave Sinai, after having received the 10 Commandments, they are about to enter Israel. The people decided to send out 12 spies to scout out the land. When the spies return, 10 of them say the land is bad and too heavily fortified for them to ever have a hope in taking. The people erupt into rebellion and cry to God that he has doomed them. God responds that with His help they would have easily taken the land and that there was no reason for their mistrust. He then decreed that on this day He will forever give the Jews something to cry about.
Starting three weeks before Tishah B’Av is the fast of the 17th of Taamuz (commemorating when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem). This starts the three weeks, a period of mourning where bathing for pleasure, instrumental music, and shaving are all avoided. Then with the 1st of Av, starts the 9 days where meat is not eaten (except on Shabbos). And finally Tishah B’Av itself. It is a 25 hour fast. There is no bathing at all, merely the tips of one’s fingers are washed, general greetings are suspended, one sits on the floor or in low chairs as one would do while sitting shiva, and all learning of Torah (except for lessons about the Temple and the destruction) cease. It is not a pleasant day.
But it’s just a building. Get over it.
In this day in age, it is very difficult to connect with the Temple. Most Jews in America think of the Temple as just a bigger synagogue that we used to have. That’s what I thought. I remember going to the Kotel for the first time when I was 20 and feeling nothing. So what? It’s just a wall. But the girl from my birthright trip was crying for some reason. And people talk about how amazing it is. What was I missing?
What I was missing is that, at one time, we had a home. A place where we were safe and free to be ourselves. You never had to think “should I take off my yalmuke around certain people,” or “if I get this job, how am I going to tell my boss I can’t work on Shabbos, on Rosh Hashana, or do Succos?” But it wasn’t just a home. It was a kingdom. Imagine the best years of America with a leader like King Arthur. And it was the home of spiritual fulfillment. The Kodesh Kedoshim, the Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant resided in our Temple. There was no other place in the world one could get closer to God.
The loss of the Temple was a severing from God. Sure we can still connect with God today, but nowhere near as close as to what we could. The majority of the 613 mitzvahs we can no longer do because we don’t have a Temple. After that day, the very experience of what it was to be a Jew radically changed. It would be like if all electricity and indoor plumbing was suddenly gone and there was no substitute we could ever develop to replace them.
But Judaism believes in optimism. As tragic as Tishah B’Av is, it is held that the moshiach will be born on Tishah B’Av. And when he does come, Tishah B’Av will no longer be a fast day. Because there will be no need to fast. We will have the Temple once again.