Will the Temple be Rebuilt?
We are now approaching the period of the three weeks. It is a period of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Mishnah in the last chapter of Taanis actually mentions five tragedies that occurred on the seventeenth day of Tammuz and five that occurred on a Tisha B'av.
On the seventeenth of Tammuz Moshe broke the Tablets after the Jews sinned by building the golden calf. The daily service stopped in the Second Temple for lack of animals to offer. The wall of the Second Temple was breached. Josephus claims the Priests were called to war and there remained no Priests pure to serve in the Temple. A Sefer Torah was burned by Apostomus. It is uncertain if he was the Greek king Antiochus or a Roman general.
The five tragedies that occurred on Tisha B'av started with the decree that the Jewish adults who left Egypt would not enter the Land of Israel because of the sins of the spies. Both Temples were destroyed. A greatly populated flourishing Jewish city, Beitar, was destroyed during the Bar Kochva rebellion. It was considered no less a tragedy than the destruction of the Temple. Jerusalem was plowed over by the Romans destroying any remnant of the Holy City. The result is the first ten days of the month of Av are solemn days of mourning, actually continuing until the fifteenth day of Av. The seventeenth day of Tammuz was declared by the prophet Zachariah as the fourth fast for it falls in the fourth month of the year.
It is interesting to note that in the Mishna we find the period of mourning including the שבת שחל בו תשעה באב the week of תשעה באב. The additional period of mourning that contains four levels of intensity and begins on the seventeenth of Tammuz is mentioned in איכה רבתי a fourth century commentary on the book of Lamentations. It is described as the period of בין המצרים between the Straits a reference to a verse in the book of Lamentations. It interprets this verse and resulting period of time as days of distress. We customarily avoid any dangerous situations during this time such as going to dangerous places, medical procedures that could develop complications if it can be postponed, unnecessary travel, striking a child or engaging a gentile in a court case. Haircuts and shaving that are the least difficult forms of mourning are avoided from the seventeenth of Tammuz. Weddings are not scheduled during this time as well. משנכנס אדר ממעטין בשמחה from the beginning of Av the Mishna teaches we decrease our levels of happiness as we approach closer to the solemn day of Tisha B'av. Many Ashkenazic Jews refrain from red meat, poultry, wine, wearing freshly laundered clothing and bathing except for Shabbos.
Sephardic Jews forbid these comforts only the week of Tisha B'av. The Yemenites do not maintain these customs. One of the most discussed topics is the issue of bathing in our day and age when most people would define themselves as fastidious and unable to handle bathing especially in countries of warm humid climates. We recognize that mourning during this period is אבילות ישנה mourning an ancient event.
It is difficult to grasp these misfortunes and one cannot certainly appreciate the loss as one who loses a loved one. But that is why these laws are so important. They cannot replace the requirement to understand the enormous loss of the Holy Temple. However they can help us to get into the mood, stimulate us to inquire and study this period of history and at least attempt to deepen our understanding. The awareness comes from these deprivations. However, even if one is unable to generate deeper rooted feelings he still mourned on some level.
As חז"ל teach us:
הלכות תשעה באב ושאר תעניות סימן תקנד כל האוכל ושותה בת"ב, אינו רואה בשמחת ירושלים; וכל המתאבל על ירושלים, זוכה ורואה בשמחתה
One who eats on Tisha B'av will not enjoy the future happiness of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. However one who mourns will rejoice in its happiness. The key is to mourn in some way. Certainly if one can mourn with his mind and heart that is the ultimate success but if not then at least he joins the rest of the Jewish nation mourning with his body.