By Rabbi Ezra Labaton ZS”L
Tisha B’av is one of the most intense days on the Jewish calendar, second only to Yom Kippur. The destruction of the Temple in the year 70 A.C.E, was a blow from which we have not recovered, these past 2000 years. We remember the horrible consequences of the destruction at every wedding, with the breaking of the glass. There are even those who commemorate the destruction by leaving one corner of the home unpainted. The Rabbis of the Talmud, lost no effort in bringing the consequences of the destruction to the forefront of Jewish living. They understood that our very survival in exile depended upon our ability to remember the Temple.
Yet, there are those who miss the point. To understand the destruction we have to understand the social/political conditions of the time. And here we can neatly encapsulate the prevailing conditions, with one word, factionalization. There were many groups of Jews pulling in many different directions. There were the Zealots who swore to fight Rome to the bitter end. There were political pragmatists who decided that religious freedom was worth the price of political subservience to Rome. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, the great Rabbinic leader, decided to capitulate to Rome, and get in return, “Yavne and its Rabbis”. Torah must survive at all costs.
Beyond the political factionalization, there were Rabbinic disagreements. Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai argued endlessly and intensely, not always with the greatest of sensitivity towards each other. Discussion and disagreement are the very essence of Talmud Torah. But the discussion has to be conducted within an atmosphere of cordiality and more, love of one another. As intense as one may be in maintaining one’s position, as strongly as one may feel about his opinion, still Talmud Torah has to be conducted, respecting the Selem Elokim (Divine Image) of one’s disputant. We may disagree, but we are still battling, in an area of Kedusha – and we msut be respectful of this holiness.
All of this social and political disharmony, even within the realm of Talmud Torah, had its effect. The Talmud teaches that this lead to the destruction of the Temple (Yoma 9b). The spiritual crisis resulted from the social crisis, people unable to respect each other; people hating those who disagree with their position. In Talmudic terms, sinat hinam brought about the destruction.
Tisha B’av tells us about destruction and the causes of destruction. But it’s not a historical question nor a philosophical question. It’s a question of social ethics. How do we disagree with one another? How should we conduct debate within Torah community? How do we come to the point of, understanding that though we disagree, still “כולנו בני אב אחד,” we are still part of one Jewish people; we still have a stake in each other; we all deserve to be respected – as Selem Elokim – even as we conduct our intense debate about the Jewish political and spiritual future.
Tisha B’av should bring tears to our eyes; not only because we lost the Bet Hamikdash, but also because we have not yet learned the lesson of sinat hinam – baseless hatred. Is it any wonder why the Bet Hamikdash has not yet been rebuilt? If we look around, do we still see hatred between Jews? On the holy day of Tisha B’av, our concern should be to look back into the annals of our people, and into the depths of our souls, and ask whether we have learned the appropriate lessons of the destruction. Even recognizing this, is a step in the right direction.