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How is this Tisha B'Av Different?

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Our world feels so different this Tisha B’Av. The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a grey cloud of fear, uncertainty, and insecurity upon the entire planet. Due to COVID-19, we will not congregate (as we would in our synagogues) to mourn the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Instead, we shall do so privately in our homes. While we are all saddened by the current difficulties, the very challenge we face can be a catalyst for a more meaningful Tisha B’Av.

“How is it! She sits in solitude, the city of many people! She that was great among nations has become like a widow; The princess among states has become a thrall.” (Lamentations 1:1)

Jeremiah begins the Book of Lamentations (Eicha) describing his astonishment at the desolation of Jerusalem, a once densely populated and vibrant city. How is it? How could it be? Similarly, we find ourselves in a situation where we are left wondering: How could it be? How could it be that our vibrant communal gathering places (especially communal gathering places of learning and prayer) are now so desolate?

I would suggest that Jeremiah begins Eicha in this way to impress upon us the notion that people make places, places don’t make people. Similarly, in the Talmud, Rebbe Yossi states: “It is not the place that gives honor to the person, rather the person gives honor to the place.” Rebbe Yossi proves this point with the fact that Mt. Sinai was only holy while the Divine presence rested upon it. Following the Divine revelation, Mt. Sinai no longer retained its holy status.

Perhaps in our modern civilization, with world travel almost as accessible as a bus ride, we have become too focused on places and destinations and not focused enough on the people present in these places and destinations. We have journeyed to places in the hopes of those places giving us something, rather than approaching our destinations as places to build, contribute to, and serve.

The message this Tisha B’Av is to recalibrate our values, forget the places, and focus on appreciating the vibrant people within the places. When we mourn the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, we are not mourning the place, the stones, or the destruction of a building–we are mourning the fact that our Father and King no longer inhabits that home as He once did. He is exiled as we are. As God’s children, let us renew our appreciation of one another as well as work and pray in unison for our Father to return to the new sanctuaries we build in our hearts. Let us make these places speedily and, thereby, merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, soon in our days. Amen!