What level of mourning is appropriate when thinking about the destruction of the Temple?
Our Gemara relates that immediately after the destruction of the second Temple, there were many people who stopped eating meat and drinking wine because of their sense of loss. Rabbi Yehoshua engaged them in conversation, using a reductio ad absurdum argument to convince them to reengage with the world.
Rabbi Yehoshua asked: Why do you refrain from meat and wine?
They answered: How can we eat meat, which is no longer offered as sacrifices on the altar? How can we drink wine, which is no longer used as sacrificial libation?
Rabbi Yehoshua retorted: Then perhaps we should refrain from eating bread, since the meal offerings were made of flour?
They replied: You are correct; we will manage eating only fruit.
Rabbi Yehoshua continued: Since the bikkurim are no longer brought, perhaps fruit should be forbidden, as well?
They answered: Only fruits from the seven species are brought as bikkurim; we will eat other fruits.
Rabbi Yehoshua argued: With the cessation of the water libation on Sukkot, perhaps water should be forbidden, as well?
To this argument, they had no answer.
Rabbi Yehoshua concluded that some level of mourning must be maintained, yet too much mourning would be a burden that the community could not shoulder. Therefore it is appropriate to follow the rulings of the Sages:
- When building a house, the house should be plastered, but a small area should be left unfinished.
- When preparing a meal, all food can be included, but a single dish should be left out.
- When a woman does her cosmetic treatments, she should leave out a small item.
The Gemara concludes with the statement that it is those people who recognize and mourn the destruction of Jerusalem who will merit seeing the city rebuilt, based on the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (66:10).