By Larry Fine
The fasts of the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av (known as Tisha B'Av) are approaching. Each year we fast in remembrance of the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Many people in our generation have begun to view these two fast days with a certain degree of frustration. First, we are now in our own land and not in the exile, is that not sufficient reason to suspend the fasts? And secondly, if the Temple was destroyed through baseless hatred, as the Rabbis in the Talmud tell us, then it will be rebuilt with baseless love. So, we are told, let us focus upon the root of the disaster, baseless hatred, and perhaps the Temple with be rebuilt again quickly with baseless love.
These claims may sound fine and wonderful to our ears when we first hear them, but yet they miss the mark when we begin to analyze both of these two statements.
First we must look to the rationale of a fast. What is the purpose that the Rabbis instituted fasting?
What did a person do in the time of the Temple when he sinned and wanted to rekindle the close relationship to G-d? During the time of the Temple, we were able to bring an animal sacrifice to the altar and through it we could realize forgiveness for our sins. The importance of this must not be overlooked.
An equally important part of attaining forgiveness included regret and remorse for the sinful act. Without this, bringing a sacrifice was likened to immersion in a ritual purification pool while holding the dead carcass that caused the impurity the purification pool would not give purification. Similarly, regret and remorse preceded bringing a sacrifice. But conversely, regret and remorse without a sacrifice was also considered lacking. Both, sacrifices and repentence, were necessary ingredients for achieving divine forgiveness.
When we offend or harm a person we must apologize to him/her and show him that we are sincere. By giving from ourselves something of value we show our sincerity. An animal was an expensive item, a lamb or cow costs several hundred dollars. When we wrong our friend, we need to show sincerity. This may be just in the manner in which we apologize or it may also be in the form of a present.
To G-d our sincerity was expressed partially by an animal sacrifice. This shows that we take our sin in a sincere manner. In order to achieve repentance we are willing to give up the enjoyment or advantage of our monetary property. It takes from our livelihood and reduces our worth.
Today we have no Temple to bring our sacrifices. So to show our sincerity we utilize our human body. We give from ourselves, our own flesh and blood. It reduces our net being, since our physical being is reduced and shows the extent to which we are willing to suffer deprivation to make amends for our wrong.
Having a Jewish State is a great step forward in the right direction. But until the Jewish homeland indeed becomes subservient to G-d and His desires, which requires building a Temple, we have no recourse other than to fast.
In regards to becoming a better person by spreading baseless love to rebuild the Holy Temple, this seems like innocent prattle. Certainly this is always a good thing to do, but the point of this period of time points to a need to return to G-d. This does not mean a "tushuva" (repentance) movement to go out and make people religious, but rather a self reflection on the individual level to improve one's relationship with G-d. Being a better person is always welcomed, but this special time is a time of inner contemplation on improving the quality of our relationship to G-d.
Whereas there was baseless hatred which was a significant factor in the destruction of the Temple, still the Temple was destroyed because a lacking in the overall relationship between the Jew and G-d. The close individual relationship to G-d was supplanted by a group mentality that endorsed bringing animal sacrifices without a proper focus on the inner dimension, meaning rebuilding the internal connection between G-d and man. The regret and remorse was only lip service.
Today, the various religious groups look at the non-religious people as needing to return with "tushuva" - they should become religious and our problems will be solved, yet they view themselves as righteous people. But it is just these people who personify the problem. Many religious people look at themselves a fine people since they are religious and it is those non religious folks who are at fault. Perhaps at one time in history being religious was synonymous with fearing G-d, however today religiosity has become a very external manner of expressing one group affiliation. Being religious and enjoying an intimate relationship with G-d are two separate concepts. Perhaps if those people who consider themselves so religious would wake up and do the real "tushuva" meaning living honestly as the Torah requires and bringing themselves closer to G-d, then those non religious people would themselves come back to acceptance of G-d's Torah.
from the June 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine