Tisha B’Av: Why We Should Still Care

The destruction that took place on the 9th of Av happened 2,000 years ago.

Memorable events happen to everyone – and not just to individuals, but to groups, families, tribes. In most cases, the memory diminishes with time. When one is very close to an event, every detail is engraved on the mind, and of course, memories trigger an accompanying emotional response. But with time, the impact of such memories becomes less. We tend to forget almost everything; the sharpness and the colors of things past become tarnished. And even when they are written down or memorialized another way, events become smaller with time. This happens even to strong personal memories, and surely to memories that are transmitted from one person to another, surely over many generations.

On the other hand, there is another element: the importance of the event – not just when it occurs, but later on. Memory can be dimmed and diminished, but the event still stays in its place, as bright as it was in the beginning. The death of a parent may be, at the time, a very strong emotional event, but even that usually won’t have the same power after many years. Yet the importance of the event may not diminish at all. When a child is orphaned and left without protection, the tragedy is not just one of emotions: it changes the entire course of life. If the event is at a big enough scale, the results will become bigger and clearer as time passes.

The distinction between memory and impact holds true both for public events and for personal ones. The shock, the pain, the suffering, will diminish with time; the results may become much bigger, much more emphatic.

Even though the fast of Tisha B’Av (commemorated in 2016 on Saturday night, August 13, and Sunday, August 14) tries to evoke an emotional response, the memory of this destruction – the destruction of the Temple – cannot stay as sharp and as bright forever. In historical terms, Tisha B’Av – the 9th of the month of Av – was a multiple disaster. It was the end point of a major war that we lost. There was a huge massacre – and also the dispersion of the Jewish people to many countries. It resulted in the loss of independence and of our ability to act as one, united people. It signaled wholesale change in our way of life: religious, practical and economic.

These results have not diminished with time. The lack of unity, the lack of common purpose, the loss of the feeling that we are one people: all these began about 2,000 years ago. And they have not changed very much. When one suffers an accident that leaves him maimed and handicapped, he may eventually forget the pain – but he will always remember that his face and his body are no longer the same, that his present life is different. If there is something to mourn – these are the results of Tisha B’Av that should be mourned.

This essay first appeared as an Op/Ed in the Jewish Week in August 2011.