Fasts of the Destruction

Institution of the Fasts

After the First Temple was destroyed, the Prophets instituted fasts
marking the tragic events surrounding the Destruction and the ensuing
exile of the Jewish People. This step was taken in order to prompt the
nation to grieve and mourn over the Destruction and Exile. It was
intended that by so doing, people would repent and mend their corrupt
ways, for it was the evil ways of the people which brought on all of
the difficulties which befell the nation, and which continue to befall
us even until today.
On the tenth day of the month of Tevet they instituted a fast because
on that day Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, began his siege on
the walls of Jerusalem. In the month of Tammuz, a fast was instituted
because in that month the walls of the city were breached. On the
ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha B’Av) a fast was instituted
because on it our Holy Temple was destroyed. And on the third day of
the month of Tishrei they instituted a fast marking the death of
Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the leader of the Jews who remained in Judah
after the Destruction of the Temple. With his death the last burning
coal of Jewish rule in the Land was extinguished.

And in this manner the people fasted, about seventy years, until the
building of the Second Temple. At that time the people asked: “Must we
continue to observe these fasts?” to which Zechariah the Prophet
responded: “So said the God of Legions: ‘The fourth fast (the fast of
Tammuz, the fourth month), and the fifth fast (Tisha B’Av), and the
seventh fast (the third of Tishrei), and the tenth fast (the tenth of
Tevet) will become for the House of Judah times of joy and happiness
and pleasant occasions; therefore love the truth and the peace.'” And
so it was that during the period of the Second Temple, these days of
fasting became days of joy and happiness.

With the Destruction of the Second Temple the original ordinance was
reinstated and the people returned to fasting on all four fast days.
Yet the date of one of the fasts changed – the fast which had been
instituted in the month of Tammuz, marking the breaching of the walls.
In the Destruction of the First Temple the walls were breached on the
ninth of Tammuz, and on this day they fasted during the seventy years
of Babylonian exile. In the Destruction of the Second Temple, though,
the walls were breached on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, and it is on
this date that we fast until today. And though the actual institution
of the fasts by the Prophets was established because of the
Destruction of the First Temple (and we therefore fast on the tenth of
Tevet – the day on which Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, placed a
siege on Jerusalem during the Destruction of the First Temple, and on
the third of Tishrei – the day on which the last remnant of Jewish
rule was abolished at the end of the period of the First Temple), when
it came to marking the breaching of the walls, the sages instituted a
day of fasting on the seventeenth day of Tammuz, when the walls were
breached by the Romans in the time of the Second Temple. This is
because the pain of the Second Temple is closer to us than that of the
First. This, too, remains in keeping with the words of Zechariah who,
as we have mentioned, referred to this fast as the “fourth fast,”
indicating that the essence of its institution was that it be in the
fourth month, that is, Tammuz. And therefore even when the later sages
changed the day of the fast from the ninth to the seventeenth day of
Tammuz, they didn’t, in so doing, change the institution of the
prophets to fast in the fourth month because of the breaching of the
walls of the city. Concerning the fast on the ninth of Av, Tisha B’Av,
no change was made, for both the First and Second Temples were
destroyed on that day.

The Ninth Day of Av

The sages said in the Mishna: “Five things befell our ancestors on the
Ninth of Av: It was decreed that our ancestors would not be permitted
to enter the Land, both the first and second Temples were destroyed,
Betar was taken, and the City was plowed over.”
The first event befell the generation which wandered in the wilderness
after leaving Egypt. Moses gave in to the requests of the people and
sent twelve spies to search out the Land of Canaan. Upon their return,
ten of the twelve spies gave an evil report of the Land claiming that
they would not be able to conquer the Land of Canaan because its
inhabitants are mighty and giant. Thus, they weakened the hearts of
the people. “And all of the congregation lifted up its voice and
cried; and the people wept that night. And all of the Children of
Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation
said to them: ‘If only we had died in the Land of Egypt, or if only we
had died in the wilderness! And why has God brought us to this land to
fall by the sword leaving our wives and our children as prey? Is it
not better for us to return to Egypt?’ And they said to one another,
‘Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt’.”

And though Joshua and Caleb reprimanded them saying: “The Land is
exceedingly good. If God is pleased by us then He will bring us into
this land and give it to us, a land which flows with milk and honey.
Just don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t fear the people of the
Land, for they are like our bread, their defense is departed from
them, and God is with us, fear them not.” Yet the response was: “And
the whole congregation said to stone them with stones.”
The Sin of the Spies was greater than the Sin of the Golden Calf, for
in the Sin of the Golden Calf the people had not renounced God and
Moses completely; they simply strayed to idol worship. The people
believed that since Moses had disappeared, God would no longer appear
to them in His glory and might, and therefore it was necessary to look
for an idol which would serve as a mediator between them and their
Creator. It was for this reason that after the Sin of the Golden Calf,
God forgave the people. In the Sin of the Spies, though, the people
denied the ability of God to be active in the world, and to assist
them in conquering the Land. In addition, they denied the central
mission for which the world was created and for which the Jewish
People was chosen – to reveal the Divine Presence in this world, via
the Land of Israel. Therefore, the Sin of the Spies was not forgiven
and it was decreed that all those who were involved in the
transgression would die in the wilderness. Only Joshua the son of Nun
and Caleb the son of Yefuneh, who did not take part in the sin, were
privileged to enter the Land.

The night on which the people cried and expressed contempt for the
Land was the night of the ninth of Av. The Holy One Blessed be He
said: “You cried for no reason, and so I will establish for you
weeping for all generations.” In that very same moment it was decreed
that the Holy Temple would be destroyed.

During the Sin of the Golden Calf the walls of faith were broken
through, and as a result the walls of Jerusalem were broken through; a
rift was set in the honor of the Torah, and in the service of the Holy
Temple. During the Sin of the Spies the fundamental faith in the
mission of the Jewish People – to sanctify God’s name in the world –
was destroyed. All of the hardships that resulted from this particular
sin signify elimination and destruction of our capacity to reveal
holiness while firmly settled in the Land of Israel. Firstly, it was
decreed on the Ninth of Av that the entire generation would not enter
the Land. Later, since the nation did not manage to mend the Sin of
the Spies, that very same transgression caused the destruction of both
the First and Second Temples. And because even afterwards we still had
not corrected the Sin of the Spies, with the defeat of Bar Kochba, the
stronghold town of Betar was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem was
plowed over. All of these are painful events which prevented the
Divine Presence from residing in Jerusalem, and therefore we mourn and
fast on Tisha B’Av.

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