My siblings and I are currently in the 12-month state of mourning over the loss of our dear father.
When one loses a close relative, in the initial stages, the mourning process starts off intensely. Relatives involved in the arrangements are exempt from davening or reciting blessings until the burial. During this time, one does not partake in meat or wine and before the burial, one rips his garment.
After the burial, the Shiva – seven days of mourning begin where one sits low and accepts visitors and reminisces about his loved one. During this time, one does not bathe, wear freshly laundered outer garments, does not get a haircut or shave nor may they engage in intimacy. After the Shiva concludes, there is a transition to Sheloshim – thirty-day period, which is not as intense as Shiva. The mourner is out and about, does not wear the torn garment – but still has the restrictions regarding listening to music, enjoyable bathing, haircutting, shaving and wearing freshly laundered garments.
After Sheloshim all other relatives are done with the laws of mourning, while children of the deceased continue their mourning for the next eleven months until the Yahrzeit. During this time, a mourner does not wear new clothing, listen to music or attend celebrations.
When mourning a loved one, as time goes on, the mourning restrictions ease.
We are currently in the nine days of mourning over the destruction of our Temples in Jerusalem. This mourning period began almost 3 weeks ago with the fast of the 17th of Tamuz. At that point, we as a people stopped listening to music, did not hold weddings or cut our hair.
This past Friday – Rosh Chodesh Av the 9 days began, when we intensified our mourning with not drinking wine and eating meat, or wearing freshly laundered clothing and not purchasing clothing. On the 9th of Av – Tisha B’Av we fast and sit on a low bench and have similar restrictions as a mourner during Shiva.
Our mourning over our Temple begins slowly and we gradually intensify and add to the restrictions.
Why is it so? Why does this mourning differ from the mourning process over a loved one which eases as time goes on? An answer offered is as follows: When mourning over a loved one, we knew the person and his passing and void is most painful, thus the expression of mourning begins intensely.
However, our mourning over the destruction of our Temples is different. We have never experienced the reality of our Temple and its functions in our lives. Yes, we know where the Temple mount is and we have the remnant of the Western wall, but we’ve never seen the Temple alive with G-d’s presence felt and service of the Kohanim performing the offerings and sacrifices, and Levites assisting in their duties.
Our Sages established the process of mourning over the absence of something that we never experienced in a gradual way, allowing us to contemplate its loss, so when we reach the day that commemorates its destruction, Tisha B’Av, we have progressed to a point where we can express our feelings of mourning over its loss.
But still, the pragmatist may argue, all this is fine, but the reality is that we don’t know what the Temple is so what is the purpose of expressing our mourning over something that we do not know?
Our Sages teach us that as long as we recognize the absence of the Temple and express our mourning over its loss, it shows we have hope in having it restored.
I came across a phenomenal illustration provided by Rabbi Pinchas Stolper o.b.m. that truly captures the effectiveness of our expressions and feelings of mourning over the destructions of our Temples.
Think of a kite high in the sky. The string pulls with such force that it is almost impossible to hold on to. The kite at the end of the string is long out of sight, but because we feel the kite’s pull, we know that it is there!
In the afternoon service of Tisha B’Av we show signs of hope in our redemption by wearing our Tefilin, which we do not don at Shacharis. Within the added prayer ‘Nachem’ it states that just as G-d took away our Temples through fire, G-d will restore a fully rebuilt third and everlasting Temple through a fire emerging from the Heavens.
This will happen when we grasp and tug hard enough!