July 28, 2023
From Wednesday evening until last night after 9pm, Jews around the world read Eicha, the Book of Lamentations and observed the fast of Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av. This day commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in ancient Jerusalem, and is the date to which is ascribed numerous other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. And while a historical perspective on such destruction would lead us to understand them as the results of colonialist expansion and subjugation of local populations by the Babylonians and the Romans respectively, the Talmud attributed the destruction of the First Temple to the Israelites sinful conduct, but offers a wholly different perspective on the reason behind the destruction of the Second.
According to Tractate Yoma, the folks of the Second Temple period were faithful to God and observant of the Torah’s law, but then, the text goes on to ask, “why was the Second Temple destroyed?,” and immediately answers, “It was destroyed due to the fact that there was – שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם (sinat chinam; pronounced see-NAHT khee-NAHM),” wanton or baseless or causeless hatred. “This [teaches] that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the [most] severe transgressions.” Later in the text, amid conversations between rabbis that span centuries, an explanation of this particular turn of phrase is offered, noting that the issue was not between the people and God, but rather between one another: “These are people who eat and drink with each other, and stab each other with verbal barbs. Apparently, even those who were close were filled with hatred toward one another.”
That the people were jealous, spiteful, and outright hateful – even to those with whom they were supposed to be closest – this was the cause of their downfall and the destruction of the Temple.
Generations later, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, and father of modern Religious Zionism, in reflecting on this notion in Orot Hakodesh, wrote that if the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, then repair is only possible through baseless, radical, unconditional, no-strings-attached love. So, though it might be pure coincidence, it’s interesting that a week after Tisha b’Av, the Jewish calendar offers us Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, on the 15th of Av. According to the Mishna, Tu b’Av was something of a matchmaking holiday in ancient Israel:
There were no days of joy in Israel greater than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur; the maidens of Jerusalem would go out dressed in white garments—borrowed ones. Why? In order to prevent shame for those who did not have their own. These clothes were first immersed, and thus they went out and danced in the vineyards, saying, “Young men, look and observe well who you are about to choose [as a spouse]; regard not beauty [alone], but rather look to a virtuous family, for ‘Gracefulness is deceitful, and beauty is a vain thing, but the woman that feareth the Lord, she is worthy of praise’ (Prov. 31:3)…”
In other sources, such as in the Talmud, Tu B’Av is less lovey-dovey, but is consistently seen as a day to recognize important relationships, as well as reconciliation:
The fifteenth of Av was the day on which the deaths of the Jews in the wilderness ceased [from the plague sent down in response to the Golden Calf incident]. When the Jews realized that the decree that God would not speak to Moses had been lifted, they established that day as a permanent day of rejoicing.
Later in the Mishna, Tu B’Av is also said to be “the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe” through marriage. Remember: in biblical Israel, there were 12 tribes and it was prohibited to marry outside of one’s tribe, that is, until the daughters of Zelophehad, who appealed to Moses to change the laws and allow them to inherit their father’s share of land. After Moses’ decision, supposedly on Tu B’Av, it was said, “Let [these women] marry who they think best,” and thereafter “members of different tribes were permitted to marry. On the day this barrier separating the tribes was removed, the Sages established a permanent day of rejoicing,” and thus Jewish tradition maintains that Tu B’Av is an auspicious day for weddings.
As we approach Tu B’Av and I begin the final preparations for my own wedding, amid the last-minute tasks and errands, naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about love and the nature of relationships. However, my focus is not only on my experience of love or just on romantic love. Rather, I have been so taken with the reminder that love takes a myriad of forms and is expressed in countless ways. Love is an invaluable gift, it is a generative force, creating bonds between people and indeed, per Rav Kook’s suggestion, love can be restorative. I too believe that love is a necessary ingredient to bring about tikkun, repair, inside and out.
So please, this Shabbat, this week, and always, let your love shine. The world needs it.