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Having safely passed through Tisha B'Av this week and having had that long day to think about the events that the day commemorates, I am taking the liberty to share a few of my thoughts about that day with you. The primary events that the day commemorates refer to the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. The loss of the Temples was not only a blow to the religion of the Jews but it also symbolized the loss of Jewish national sovereignty. The loss of this sovereignty over one's self created the Jews of the Exile and the Diaspora and ingrained in the hearts of those Jews a longing to regain that sovereignty and to return to the Land of Israel. The primary question in Jewish life was how to achieve this goal. Sixty-five years after the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus and the Romans, the Jews rose in a rebellion led by Bar Kochba and Rabi Akiva to attempt to regain their national independence and rebuild the Temple. This attempt crashed in bloody failure and the day of Tisha B'Av came now to commemorate the destruction of Beitar, Bar Kochba's last remaining stronghold, in addition to marking the destruction of the Temples. But Bar Kochba's defeat came to symbolize more than a failed attempt at Jewish national independence. It signaled the dangers and frustrations of false messianism, a disease that has taken a great toll on Israel throughout its Diaspora history. Thus Tisha B'Av also tolls the bell for the destruction that false messiahs have extracted from the Jewish people over the ages.

From the time of Bar Kochba (135CE) till the time of Zionism (1897) there was no concentrated Jewish effort to regain the Land of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Individual Jews and even sometimes substantial groups of Jews found their way back to live in Israel. But these Jews were always living under foreign masters - Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ottomans and British, to name some. In the sixteenth century many Jewish refugees from the expulsions from Spain and Portugal came to the Land of Israel. In that century, Don Joseph Naxos, a wealthy converso Jew and the nephew of the great Jewish woman banker and visionary, Dona Gracia Beatrice Mendez, even gained legal control over the city of Tiberias and its immediate environs. He envisioned this event as being the beginning of the restoration of Jewish national sovereignty in the Land of Israel. However, with his death and with the later debacle of Shabtai Tzvi, the false messiah who eventually converted to Islam, nothing practical came of this momentary historical aberration. Individual Jews returned to the Land of Israel but there was no hope - except for messianic expectations and beliefs - for any restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. In my heart and mind, Tisha B'av reflects and commemorates this historical Jewish attitude of helplessness as well.

Yet in the nineteenth century, an inexplicable change in Jewish attitude began to take place. The disciples of the Gaon of Vilna and of the Chasidic masters as well, began to organize immigration to the Land of Israel. Towards the end of that century actual communal organizations such as Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) were created to speed immigration and Jewish development of the Land of Israel. Disparate Jewish personalities - Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) of Volozhin and head of its great yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever of Byalistok, Baron Edmond DeRothschild of France, Dr. Leo Pinsker of Russia and an avowed secularist - all somehow joined forces to place the issue of Jewish return to the Land of Israel and Jewish sovereignty there on the agenda of the Jewish people. Herzl's Zionist movement was built upon the foundation of this earlier nineteenth century phenomenon. Tisha B'Av marked these beginnings of change in Jewish life as well. Appeals for money to help create the nascent Jewish community in the Land of Israel became common and widespread throughout Jewish synagogues the world over on Tisha B'av. Thus Tisha B'Av became a moment of hope and vision as well as one of mourning and sadness. This is in fulfillment of the words of the Talmud: "Those that mourn for Jerusalem - Jews who have an acute sense of memory and tradition - will also be privileged to participate in its rebuilding!" Thus Tisha B'Av bids us to look forward while we recall the past and to strengthen ourselves in our just cause and holy right.

Berel Wein

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