Tisha B’Av was originally supposed to be a day of joy and happiness, the day where the Jewish people were to ascend into the Land of Israel after living in bondage in Egypt. However, the Jewish people, instead of trusting that G-d was bringing them into a beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, sought to send out spies to survey the land. To our great sorrow, all but two of the spies spoke slander against the Land of Israel and caused the Jewish people to cry. From that day forward, G-d decreed that because the Jewish people cried when there was no reason to, the Jewish people would have real sorrows occur on this day to mourn over.
The first great sorrow to occur on this day was the horrible news that the entire generation of the Exodus would not be permitted to enter into the Land of Israel and would have to die in the desert. Only two people from the generation of the Exodus, Joshua Ben Nun and Calev Ben Yefuneh, would be permitted to enter the Holy Land. Jews who attempted to disobey G-d’s command not to enter Israel were compelled to listen to G-d’s decree by their enemies.
The second great sorrow to occur on Tisha B’Av is the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. This Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people of that period of time were guilty of committing murder, adultery, and the worshipping of alien gods. No matter how many times the Prophet Jeremiah warned the Jewish people to reform their ways, nobody listened to his words of wisdom. To the contrary, they had him locked up for telling the words of G-d.
Even though the Babylonians freed the Prophet Jeremiah and gave him his freedom, he remained committed to the redemption of the Jewish people and followed after them into exile. As Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 2:13, a text traditionally read in synagogues worldwide today as the Jews sit on the floor in mourning: “With what shall I bear witness for you? To what can I compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what can I liken you that I may comfort you, O maiden daughter of Zion? Your ruin is as vast as the sea, who can heal you?”
The Babylonian exile fortunately only lasted 70 years. After that, the Jewish people were permitted to return to their land and they built a Second Temple. Following the Hasmonean Revolts, they even had political independence for a brief period of time, until royal Hasmonean rivalry over who would be king led to the Romans intervening in the conflict and eventually taking over Ancient Israel.
During the Roman period, the Jewish people committed a sin that G-d evidently considered more grave than adultery, murder, and the worship of alien gods. This sin was hatred against ones fellow man without any sound reason. According to the famous story of Kamza and Bar Kamza, a Jewish citizen of Israel invited by accident his enemy Bar Kamza to a party instead of his friend Kamza. Instead of permitting Bar Kamza to remain at the party and pay for his food, the host of the party rudely kicked him out as the great rabbis of Israel looked on and did nothing. Bar Kamza was so infuriated that he told the Romans that the Jews would not sacrifice an animal brought to them by non-Jews. In order to prove this point, he personally brought the Roman Caesar’s sacrifice to the Temple but created a defect in the animal, so he could not be sacrificed. This infuriated the Romans and led to the destruction of the Second Temple.
Unfortunately, the senseless hatred that existed in the tale of Kamza and Bar Kamza was merely one of many such examples. The Jewish people during that period of time were very much divided and not united. There was much internal strife. The internal strife is what led to the Romans successfully breaking the walls into Jerusalem and destroying the Second Temple on Tisha B’Av.
However, following the destruction of the Second Temple, there were still many Jews in Israel. It was only following the crushing of the Bar Kokhba Revolt that the Jewish people really began to feel the Roman Exile, a traumatic period in Jewish history that has not ended to date despite the existence of the State of Israel. The Bar Kokhba Revolt was finally crushed in Betar in 135 CE, also on Tisha B’Av. The people of Betar were brutally massacred and the Romans barred the Jewish people from burying the dead for three years.
While Tisha B’Av mainly commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, it is important to recall that many other tragedies also befell the Jewish people on this day. On Tisha B’Av in 1190, the Jews of York were massacred. 100 years later, also on Tisha B’Av, the Jews of England were expelled. In 1305, the Jews of France were imprisoned on Tisha B’Av. In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews of Spain on this tragic day. On Tisha B’Av in 1571, the Jews of Florence were forced into a ghetto. And in 1670, the Jews were forced out of Vienna, Austria.
Furthermore, historians have concluded that War World II and the Holocaust was actually a drawn out conclusion of World War I, according to Chabad. Interestingly, Germany declared war on Russia, putting World War I into motion, on Tisha B’Av in 1914. Given this history, we should not be surprised that on this Tisha B’Av, Operation Protective Edge is ongoing and no end appears in sight. Only when the messianic age comes into being will Tisha B’Av become a day of joy as it originally was supposed to be.