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The Fast of the Fifth in the State of Israel - What Does It Mean?

By Dr. Y. H. Yevin

The meaning of the "Fast of the Fifth Month," Tisha B'Av, in the Diaspora was quite clear: On this day those who dwelled in the valley of the shadow of death bound their souls to that tragic moment, the beginning of all our disasters, the first cause and father of all the persecutions, the destructions, the slaughters and tortures of hell: to the moment our independence was lost, as it was symbolized in the destruction of the Temple and the removal of our nation from its land. When the curtain hanging over the holy ark in the synagogue was removed, it was as if our exilic existence was stripped of all appearances of calm and quiet, and was now visible in its bare nakedness: as a pit of death. On that blessed summer night, lit by the half moon, in a village situated between golden grain and fragrant fruit fields - the aroma of Jerusalem aflame rose, the sound of the Temple's cedars burning and the shouts of the enemy felling the city walls and his feet trampling the Holy of Holies were heard, and the sight of Priests throwing themselves into the pyres as a Divine hand reached from the sky and took from them the keys to the Shrine, to be held now in Heaven, was seen.

And the nation that was robbed of all, that was downtrodden to the earth, face to face with its disaster - bereft of all its jewels, power and strength, left only with the abstract desire to live and the ability to shout - raised its voice and shouted: shouted to its father in Heaven, that insofar as all earthly possibility and hope were gone, He should make possible the impossible: He should bring the miracle and save us.

The nation shouted - because all redeeming action was beyond its ability, the only ability it retained was to shout.

And Jews removed their shoes, sat on the ground in mourning and eulogized as if they were eulogizing a person: they eulogized the loss of their Temple and land, which was their own personal loss. And these Jews still did not know clearly that their own end was to be the same as that of their Temple: to rise heavenward in flames set by the cruel enemy - mother and children together.

They were mournful and eulogizing as if for a person - because the loss they wept over was comparable to the loss of a father mourning over his loved one: a loss that is irreparable, that they cannot undo - only their Creator, who can do anything, could comfort them and bring the miracle of their redemption.

All this was completely justified in the Diaspora. There, the form and content of the day Divinely ordained for the enslavement of His children were well matched. But what does this abstract mourning in the State of Israel mean?

I am asking about the meaning of the mourning on Tisha B'Av in Israel; not questioning the existence of the Fast of the Fifth itself in Israel.

Certainly we feel much pain on this day and have much to weep over. Were we only to weep over the loss of the mass of our people in Treblinka and Maidanek - oceans of tears would not suffice (and the fires of Treblinka and Maidanek originated in the fire that burned in Jerusalem). And certainly, with the establishment of our truncated state along the coast of the Land of Israel, the fast of Tisha B'Av has become more specific, more geographically focused, more than ever tied to the holy mountain and the building that stood on that mountain: that mountain that is captive even today in the hands of the impure; and as long as that mountain is not redeemed, there can be no true redemption for the people of Israel or the Land of Israel.

But the question is: What does the mourning mean?

For people only mourn a loss of life that cannot be restored, when even the last hope for any action that can save the life has disappeared. As long as there remains the slimmest chance of saving the dear one - a person does not mourn, but rather acts to save.

Even the Shunamite woman, after her son died, did not remove her shoes and sit on the ground, but ran to the prophet for him to save. And he did, he revived her son.

So what does our mourning over Temple Mount, held today by the enemy - mean to us?

It is well known that four years ago, when we had the upper hand in our war with the Ishmaelites, all of the land of Israel lay open before the liberating youth of Israel. Every place it stepped - became part of Israel. No external enemy prevented us from ascending the heights of Mount Moriah and descending from there towards the Jordan and from there - eastward, eastward. Our own leaders stopped the advancement of the army of Israel. Leaders fearful of any decisive step, prevented the liberation of Temple Mount and the liberation of the Land of Israel in its entirety. Now, too, four years later, the possibilities are still there. We can wipe away the cobwebs of the "cease fire agreements" that are costing us hundreds of needlessly lost lives, murdered by Ishmael; we can move our borders as far as the desert. Even the most hesitant of the hesitant will agree that we can at least use this time to collect arms, arms and more arms, and arm ourselves spiritually - and in the not too distant future be decisive and set our borders in their natural place - along the Euphrates. If we do not do so, the blame lies with us, the chain is around our necks, and do not the mourning and lamentations recited on this day therefore become hypocritical, a deep deluding of our spirit?

At the end of Eicha (Lamentations) we say: "Why do you forget us forever, abandon us for so many days?"

Certainly: the Holy One does not deign to reply to this complaint, which we have hurled at him every Tisha B'Av for years upon years. But though He does not reply, we can imagine the answer of He who despises fraud and does not tolerate sycophants:

"You ask why I forget you forever, but I should be asking you: Why do you forget yourselves? Behold, the way is open before you: Rise and conquer! And if you have forgotten Zion and do not mind living without her, and even find it comfortable living without her - why soil you lips with deceit - why pretend to be mourners and lamenters - while in your hearts you are far from mourning and pain and you are actually satisfied with, as you call it, the 'status quo'?

"Here you are praying on this day: 'Comfort Zion as You have promised.' So, why do you yourselves not comfort Zion, and redeem the widow held captive by the impure? Perhaps you do not pity her in your hearts?"

Our fathers in the Diaspora were most patient: Under conditions imposed on them, surrounded by 70 wolves, they were conditioned to be patient. Still - we can say with certainty, that if on one of their Tisha B'Avs, as they sat on the ground and recited Lamentations - if at that exact moment the messenger came and reported that faraway, in their Jerusalem, at the foot of Mount Moriah, a few hundred cubits from the Holy of Holies, a fully armed Hebrew army is waiting with its commanders - why, as soon as the news was delivered they would have risen from the ground drunk with joy and flown on eagle's wings, every single child of Israel, to the promised land, to join their Hebrew army camping at the foot of Temple Mount and they would not have continued lamenting, they would have been marching, together, drunk with joy: Forward to the east!

Yet we "Zionists", boastful of our accomplishments and activity -with our army at the foot of the mountain, stand with arms folded - so, what is this mourning, what is this hypocritical weeping, if not the epitome of hypocrisy and the scam of scams?

Certainly: If we had in our generation one leader, "a master of all the Diaspora," of the stature of Rabbi Gershom Meor Hagola or Maimonides - he would be courageous enough to alter the prayers of the Fast of the Fifth - to put them in accord with the realistic desires and the realistic possibilities of the hour: to ensure that lies and hypocrisy are far from us when we speak in prayer to the nation's God.

Since we do not have such a leader, since we now stand in this poor generation - we must be grateful that the "religious leaders" of our time have not yet proclaimed that "we have been fully redeemed" and canceled Tisha B'Av altogether. (And this they have avoided doing not because they yearn for Malkhut Israel, the sovereign kingdom of Israel, for such yearnings are not in their hearts, but rather out if inertia and habit and lack of courage... and we are better off that they have not changed Tisha B'Av, so we still have it as testimony that the nation and Jerusalem have not yet been redeemed.)

In any case, we must engrave this truth in our souls:

Though the Fast of the Fifth has undergone no change in form since the establishment of the State of Israel, in its essence it has been transformed: If until now the fast was addressed to the heart of Israel, to the source of Israel's tears, and to the God of Israel that He should save us miraculously - from now on Tisha B'Av is addressed to the arm of Israel, it is a call to the sword of Israel: that it should be drawn in order to take back what has been stolen from us; that the sword of Israel should stir to the action that brings full redemption, after which, and only after which, the Fast of the Fifth will along with all the other fasts become "joy and happiness and holidays..."

(From Sulam no. 40, Av 5712 [Summer 1952])