The story is told of how the Indian saint, Seshadri Swami, would go through the market of the town where he lived and smash the windows of the local shopkeepers. The first time this happened, the shopkeepers were disturbed and perplexed by his behaviour. They soon discovered, however, that the swami’s ‘vandalism’ led to unexpected blessings: old debts were suddenly cancelled, a lucrative deal was made or a new flood of business would come pouring in to their shop. Thereafter, they were overjoyed whenever they were ‘victimized’ by the swami.
Sometimes, a situation becomes so blocked that the only way forward is through a shattering. The shattering breaks down the barriers that are obstructing further progress. It removes the old form that is unable to carry the intended blessing and makes room for a new light.
This process is integral to the nature of our reality. It is part of the cycle of human evolution: At key moments in the history of humanity when the extreme limit of a given form’s potential has been reached, or when a form has become totally ineffective, God harnesses powerful forces and destroys the existing form in order to make way for a new one.
Tisha B’Av – the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av – is such a moment. According to the tradition, the destruction of the first and second Temples took place on this day, as well as a number of other great tragedies in the history of the people of Israel.
There is something powerful that occurs during these moments of shattering. Somehow, all the pain and resistance inside us is brought to the surface and then wiped away. Despite the suffering and destruction, there is a letting go of all the unnecessary bits, a stripping down to essentials that leads us to a remarkable inner clarity.
According to the tradition, the keruvim (cherubs) over the Ark in the Temple were fashioned facing each other, cleaving one to the other. However, the Midrash tells us that whenever Israel failed to fulfill the Will of God, the keruvim would suddenly miraculously turn away in opposite directions. Yet, on the original Tisha B’Av, when the Babylonians entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, they found that the two keruvim were still locked in an intimate embrace.
Amid our seeming aloneness and solitude, God is very close. Even as He/She expresses His/Her anger and wrath, God is right beside us. Through the brokenness and the shattering there shines a brilliant light.
A blessing is hidden in the darkness of Tisha B’Av. A deep truth is buried under the sorrow of this day.
Sri Ramakrishna once went to visit a close devotee who was ill. When he saw the terrible condition of the man, Sri Ramakrishna exclaimed:
“In order to take full advantage of the dew, the gardener removes the soil from the Basra rose down to the very root. The plant thrives on account of the moisture. Perhaps this is why you too are being shaken to the very root.” 
We are all trees in the garden of the Lord. Sometimes, the Divine gardener strips away all of our physicality so that the celestial dew can penetrate into our hearts.
The human heart is called the temple of the soul. When the negative thoughts and feelings inside us become too numerous, they form an impassable barrier between God and ourselves. Then the sole means of transmitting the light through the barrier is to break down the very walls of the temple itself.
Yet not all faults and imperfections will block out God’s light. If that were so, nobody would ever be able to receive the Divine blessing. There are certain fundamental flaws, however, that will prevent God from reaching us, and render our inner temple devoid of the sacred Presence. We get a good indication which obstacles these are, by looking at the factors that led to the destruction of the two Temples in ancient Jerusalem.
At the time of the first Temple, the Bible tells us that the land was filled with corruption. The people had lost their faith in God and lived immoral, base lives. They indulged in idol worship and persecuted those who were weak and vulnerable. Even the priesthood itself had been degraded and corrupted. It is no wonder that the Temple could no longer hold the Divine Presence.
Injustice, moral corruption, worshipping other gods – these are flaws that will lock God out. The difficulty with injustice and moral corruption is easy to understand. In our modern context, the issue of “worshipping other gods” is harder to pinpoint. From a higher perspective, worshipping other gods means to make the pursuit of power, money, and sensual fulfillment the central focus of our life. And conversely, to worship the Lord is to invest our energies, belongings and abilities in serving God and humankind.
During the period preceding the destruction of the second Temple, Israel reached another impasse in its spiritual evolution. The Talmud tells us that the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Like the heart in our physical body, the spiritual heart is the central organ of our body of centers or sefirot. A properly working heart center is essential to the healthy functioning of our etz hachayim, our inner tree of life. Jealousy, bitterness, anger and hatred will block up our heart center. God cannot work through a person with a closed heart. And He certainly will not make him or her a dwelling place for the Shekhinah, for the feminine Divine Presence.
There is another dimension to the tragedy of Tisha B’Av. According to the tradition, the destruction of the Temples is directly linked to the story of the spies that Moses sent out to scout out the land of Canaan [Israel]. When the spies returned from their journey, they told the people that any attempt to conquer the land was doomed to failure. When the Children of Israel heard these words, they fell into a panic and refused to enter into the land. As a result of this rebellion, God condemned the whole generation of the Exodus to die in the wilderness. This heart-breaking decree was pronounced on the day of Tisha B’Av.
What was the reason for the failure of the spies? What was the cause of this debacle that led to such a disastrous result?
The generation of the Exodus had grown up as slaves in Egypt. They lived a day-to-day existence where all of their energies were focused on mere physical survival. This bare existence left them with a very limited view of reality. It was this narrow-minded vision that led them to rebel against God and Moses. This slave mentality blinded them to the tremendous spiritual potential inherent in the Promised Land.
This limited physical mindset was at the root of all of the tragedies that took place on Tisha B’Av. Had the generation of the desert been able to focus their hearts and minds in the divine, they would have retained the higher perception necessary to enter into the land. Had the people during first Temple times lived a God-centered life, they would never have fallen into the abyss of corruption and idol worship. If Divine Presence had truly been a living reality for the generation of the second Temple, they would have experienced an unconditional love for all human beings and the baseless hatred that caused the Temple’s destruction would never have appeared.
An expansive awareness is the key to building the Third Temple of the future. This is why the Midrash states that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av. The Messiah will awaken this lofty consciousness in Israel and humanity. He or she will reveal a teaching and a way of life to nurture and develop this most sublime state of being.
This Tisha B’Av, as we mourn the Temple’s destruction, let us also strive to feel the intimate presence of God. As we contemplate the pain and suffering that has befallen our people on this day, let us also seek to discern the Divine spark in each and every human being. And rather than dwelling on the sorry state of the land and people of Israel, let us try to rediscover the vision that made us love the Holy Land. Let us prepare ourselves to receive the unique spiritual blessing that lies hidden beneath the great physical shattering of this solemn day.
Copyright © 2017, by Yoel Glick
- ‘M’. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda↵