Our lives are filled with joys and sorrows, successes and disappointments, births and deaths, creation and destruction. Most of the time, we busy ourselves with the day- to-day affairs of life. In between, we search for joy and inspiration. We seek out a few moments in the light.
The Torah states: “and you shall rejoice in your festivals…and you shall be entirely joyous.” (Deut. 16:14-15) The holydays revolve around such moments of joy and celebration. They provide us with a chance to rest in God and be at peace.
Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is a different kind of holyday. Tisha B’Av is the anniversary of the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. On Tisha B’Av, we turn our minds to the pain and suffering in our history. On Tisha B’Av, we seek inspiration by contemplating the darkness in life.
It is not that we become morbid on Tisha B’Av, rather it is a question of removing the carefree veneer that we paint upon reality. On Tisha B’Av we strip away the gloss of pleasant appearances and look at the human condition with open eyes.
According to the tradition, Tisha B’Av is intimately linked with humanity’s fall from Eden. For a few hours on Tisha B’Av we contemplate what it would have been like to talk with God in the Garden, to communicate with all of the creatures and know their true names. We reflect on what it would mean to live without fear, shame, hatred or death. We try to imagine what it would feel like to inhabit bodies made of light.
On Tisha B’Av we look at the world around us and weep over man’s inhumanity to man. We mourn the fact that with all the tools at our disposal there is still so much hunger, poverty, and injustice in the world. We admit that despite all the knowledge which we have garnered over the centuries we have not become happier or more profound human beings.
On Tisha B’Av we cry over the gap that exists between the will of humanity and the Will of God. We mourn our incapacity to feel the Divine Presence. We face the reality that His Plan and Purpose are not being fulfilled in His world.
In Eden, God commanded us to watch over and care for His garden. On Tisha B’Av we mourn over the dismal state of God’s garden; the broken condition of the temple which is our world.
On Tisha B’Av, we look with honesty at Israel and see how far we are from being a light unto the nations. We gaze toward the Jewish people and realize how distant is our dream of becoming a nation of prophets and a kingdom of priests.
On Tisha B’Av we confront the truth that Judaism rarely produces real tzaddikim, great spiritual teachers and enlightened souls. We admit to ourselves that erudite scholars are no substitute for men and women who radiate pure holiness, individuals whose very presence can transform our lives.
On Tisha B’Av we mourn over the desolate condition of our personal temple, the living presence of God which is within each human heart. We weep because our pursuit of worldly desires has blocked our inner vision. We mourn the gulf that has arisen between God and us. We weep because we have allowed the temptations of this world to make us forget the true purpose of life.
“Those who mourn for Jerusalem will merit to share in its joy.” – Taanit 30A
The lament of Tisha B’Av is not mere negativity. There is a higher purpose at work behind the process of mourning and self-examination that we undergo on this day. According to the tradition, the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av afternoon. There is a ray of light buried amid the desolation and destruction. There is the promise of a rebirth in consciousness held out before us on this day of sadness and tragedy.
Rebbe Natan of Nemirov sees Tisha B’Av as more than just a day. Tisha B’Av is a state of consciousness where we do not know who we are, what we are doing, or how to change the situation in which we find ourselves. Tisha B’Av is the place of churban habayit, the destruction of the space in which we live. It is the moment when the paper house of illusions and fantasies that we have constructed about ourselves and about our lives comes tumbling down. 
Once the veil of illusion has been shattered, however, we can begin to see the true reality. We discover that our kinot were really tikkunim – our lamentations were strategies for the repair of ourselves and our world. Our darkness then will be turned into light, our ignorance into knowledge and our despair into hope.
This is the true purpose behind the three weeks of mourning that culminate on Tisha B’Av day. The three weeks are the Rabbis’ method of forcing us to stop and reflect on the true nature of life on this physical plane of existence. They help us to clearly identify the broken components of our own little world. Equipped with this understanding, we can begin to move our lives forward from the place of churban habayit and start to rebuild our temple anew.
Once we have cried over Jerusalem, we can participate in the joy of its rebuilding. Once we have confronted the stark reality of our broken world, then there is much that we can do to uplift and repair our planetary Temple.
We rebuild the Temple by removing petty hatred, anger, and fear from our hearts and replacing it with love, compassion and generosity.
We rebuild the Temple by ceasing to be the instruments of our own selfish desires and striving to become instruments of God’s Will instead.
We rebuild the Temple by letting go of all our dislikes and aversions and seeing the Divinity that is in every human being.
We rebuild the Temple by striving to rise above the struggle and suffering of this world; by living our lives by the highest ideals.
We rebuild the Temple by seeking the reflection of the Divine countenance in our people, our country and our religion. We rebuild the Temple by awakening God’s Living Presence in our lives.
Once we stop pursuing the illusive happiness of material life, we begin to discover the joy of Divine life. We feel the profound satisfaction of a life dedicated to the wellbeing of others. We know the inner contentment of a life that is not based on material wants and physical desires. We experience the sublime state of the messianic consciousness – the infinite joy, peace and light which are the natural state of the human soul.
- Rebbe Natan of Nemirov, Lekutei Halachot: Hilchot Gittin, halacha 3:25 , quoted in Lekutei Halachot Hameshulash: Bein Hametsarim #20↵