The Shulchan Aruch notes that we are obligated to fast on Tisha B’Av because of the terrible events that occurred on that day (Orach Chayim 549:1). The Mishnah Brura (based on the Mishnah in Taanit 26b) elaborates on this statement and lists five events which occurred on that day. Two of those events are rather similar; namely, the destruction of the First and Second Temples. From this we can easily deduce that on Tisha B’Av not only are we mourning the destruction of the second Beit HaMikdash, but also the first one. This, however, seems a bit strange.
It is easy for us to understand why we mourn the destruction of the Second Temple – after all, our lives today and the lives of the Jewish people over the last 2,000 years have been directly (and negatively) impacted by that horrible event. But why do we still mourn the destruction of the First Temple – an event which has seemingly been rectified? Did we not rebuild the Temple? Was not the second Beit HaMikdash’s beauty and joy so tremendous that the Gemara declares them second to none (Succah 51a and 51b). What need, therefore, is there to still mourn the first Beit HaMikdash? How does it affect our lives today, what loss are we still crying over?
What We Lost with the Destruction of Bayit Rishon
The Rambam (based, in part, on the Gemara in Yoma 52b) in Hilchot Beit HaBachira (Chapter 4, Halacha 1) describes some of the more significant objects that the first Beit HaMikdash contained:
There was a stone in the western section of the Kodesh Kedoshim upon which the Aron (Holy Ark) was placed. Before it was the jar of Manna and the staff of Aharon.
At the time that Shlomo built the Temple (knowing that the Temple was destined to be destroyed) he built a deep and winding tomb below to [eventually] hide the Aron. And King Yoshiyahu commanded to hide it [the Aron] in the place that Shlomo built – as the [pasuk] states: “And he said to the Leviim…’place the Aron HaKadosh in the house which Shlomo the son of David, King of Israel, built…'” (Divrei HaYamim II 35: 3 – see also the commentaries of the the Radak and the Ralbag there) And he [King Yoshiyahu] hid the staff of Aharon and the jar of Man and the anointing oil with it [the Aron].
Shlomo HaMelekh knew that we could never truly reproduce the heart and soul of the First Temple (namely, the Aron and its surrounding vessels). As such, he took pains to protect the holy vessels which we were so fortunate at one time to possess. And while Shlomo HaMelekh’s plan succeeded – the vessels were spared the destruction that befell the First Temple (see the Ralbag to Divrei HaYamim II 35:3), the success was not immediately apparent, as the Rambam notes in the same halacha:
And none of these [objects] returned with [the rebuilding of] the Second Temple. Even the Urim and Tumim of the Second Temple did not provide answers vis-a-vis Ruach HaKadosh nor did they ask questions of it – as the [pasuk] states: “…until a Kohein is established [who can ask] of the Urim and Tumim” (Ezra 2: 63 – see also the commentary of the Malbim there). They only made them [the Urim and Tumim] in order to complete the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol – so that he wouldn’t lack any garments.
Evidently the destruction of the Temple is not something that we could easily reverse and that is why the rebuilding of the Temple was incomplete. We were able to rebuild the structure of the Temple, but central vessels of the Temple remained hidden away. And they will continue to remain hidden until the building of the third Temple – the Temple which, God Himself will one day “rebuild” (see Rashi Succah 41a, beginning with the words “Iy Nami”; Pasikta Rabati, ed. Ish Shalom chapter 28; and the Raavan Rosh Hashana 30a).
What We Really Lost
As noted by the Pasikta Rabati, the third Beit HaMikdash will have a quality lacking in the first two Temples. The Temple that God Himself builds will not contain within it the foibles of man and, as such, cannot be destroyed. The Third Temple will be the perfect representation of the Temple in heaven, the one in which God Himself (so to speak) resides. It is that Temple which will contain the holy vessels which we so tragically were forced to hide away.
For these vessels aren’t merely symbolic losses, but rather indicate a fundamental lacking in the Second Temple. For all of its beauty and joy, the Second Temple lacked the close relationship which was present in the First Temple. This special bond between God and the Jewish people wasn’t fully rectified with the rebuilding of the Temple, and the most poignant representation of this less than perfect redemption was the lack of the Aron and surrounding vessels in the Second Temple.
It is as if HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself is hiding with His Holy Vessels. And even worse, the Ribbono Shel Olam will remain in hiding until He decides that the time for the ultimate redemption has come. The flaw that caused the destruction is still there – and we have to cry over that flaw. The wonders that were once achieved we can no longer accomplish – and we cry over that too.
At one time we had the capability to make an Aron HaKodosh, but no more. At one time we could consult with the Urim and Tumim, but those days have passed and we can no more bring them back than we can bring back a loved-one we have lost. And that is why we mourn and cry on Tisha B’Av – for the ultimate, irretrievable and irreplaceable loss of that thing which we want most and which we are totally powerless to restore.
The Cry of Tisha B’Av
That is the cry of mourning, it is not a cry for understanding or petition, but a cry of despair. It is the cry of someone who realizes that ultimately speaking there is nothing to do, that there is no action to truly rectify his situation.
This, too, is the cry of Tisha B’Av. True, we know that there is Teshuva and that God will one day bestow upon us in His infinite kindness a Third Temple, but that doesn’t stop the mourners cry. Just as we cry for the loss of a loved one (despite the fact that we know that God will one day revive the dead) so too we cry for the loss of the Aron and its surrounding vessels. This is a loss which we cannot retrieve, a lost that we can not replace. A loss for which we can only ask, with tears falling from our face, Eichah – how can this be?
Rabbi Chaim Brovender has been teaching Torah in Israel for over forty years, and recently established WebYeshiva.org – the world’s first fully interactive, online yeshiva.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.