Close your eyes. Try to imagine yourself living in Jerusalem approx. 2,000 years ago.
You are living in a house built from Jerusalem stone bricks. It’s got a living room /dining area as you walk in from the front door. In the entrance to your home, in the vestibule, lays before you a beautiful mosaic tiled floor. The living/dining room has a large dining room table with pillows on plat formed benches around the table. This is where your family spends much time together. A passage way to the bedrooms leads off from the living room area.
You are comfortable in your home. Your father is a Cohen, one of the priestly class and you have a beautiful view of the Temple from your wide wall to wall open window in the living room. You have been living in this house for generations, and you are comfortable. Comfortable that is, until the Romans came in and occupied the country.
The influx of Romans and their pagan ways are strange and vulgar to you. And you can’t understand how they would build temples to gods and believe these simplistic stories of gods acting like humans and in human form. But the Romans were winners. It was their time in history, and their cultural invasion influenced a lot of the Jews in Israel, making them want to be like the glitzy and aggressive Romans.
Whenever any Jewish merchants travel to Rome and return, there’s always a crowd of people that swarm around him wanting the latest fads and gadgets from Rome. You observe and watch the Roman women in your country walk around in their Roman styles, flaunting their naked shoulders and cleavage that Jewish women would be ashamed to show in public. The Roman women acted immodestly, flirting, drinking, and partying. Many people tolerated this behavior, as not everything the Romans brought was bad. They introduced a sophisticated aqueduct system into the Land of Israel, and built market places and cobbled roads and infrastructure, and Israel, -Judea, was now under the great Roman Empire. But the Roman barbarism and immorality couldn’t be masked by its superior war power and might. The Roman ‘enlightenment’ plagued the country and disgusted the Jews who were educated with Torah, morality, and family values.
When the Romans first came in, it wasn’t so THAT bad. There was political strife in the country with a power play of who would rule the kingdom, and Rome was invited in to take sides and put an end to the in-fighting. But then, once Rome got its tentacles deep into the Kingdom, it swallowed it and took over.
The Roman Empire’s Modus operandi was that when they took over nations, they usually let them continue to go about their affairs, as long as the nation melted into Roman culture and accepted its governance. However, if the nation they took over showed any resistance, they were crushed, with the trouble-makers horribly and publically tortured to set an example for others who might think of rebelling. Various tortures consisted of putting people on the rack, stretching them with weights tied to their limbs, cutting and stabbing them continuously until they ‘felt their death’, sawing people in half, burning people alive, combing the skin off with hot iron combs, and of course, one of their favorite inventions, -crucifixion.
Any culture that kept their religion -which was a threat to the Roman Empire -was outlawed. After the Jews rebelled against Rome, Judaism was basically outlawed. Jews, who would not bow to Rome’s idols would suffer the consequences. Jews who circumcised their sons as G-d commanded Abraham, and made them different from the Romans, were killed. Torah study was also dangerous to the Empire as it was ‘above Roman law’ for the Jewish believers, a threat to 'The State', and so in the first century, the Romans tried to obliterate Judaism and made the study of Torah and the practice of Judaism, illegal and sufferable by death.
After uprising against the Romans, in punishment, the Romans attacked Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, burning it to the ground. Some say that the fire was so hot, that the gold from the Temple melted in the streets. Jews who took safety in Masada, saw from afar, the flames and smoke from Jerusalem. They probably couldn’t believe that Jerusalem and the Holy Temple were actually destroyed. They must have thought it was the end of the world. How could it be that there was no Temple, no Jerusalem anymore?
In Jerusalem, Jews were slain indiscriminately until the streets ran with blood. Much of the remaining population was hauled off to Rome as slaves. Those who remained, starved, with some mothers resorting to eating their dead babies who died for lack of mother’s milk.
Imagine. Imagine being in your home, knowing that Roman soldiers were outside in your neighborhood, going from door to door, slaughtering your neighbors. And soon, soon they would be arriving at your door. There was no place to run. You had no time now. The Temple was burned to the ground, the city was black with soot and smoke. And then you hear it. A banging at your door. “Open up! Open Up!” And your door gets kicked down. In march mighty Roman pagan soldiers. They look around. You are just a kid, a lad or lass of 10 years. Your father runs in front of your family to protect them as he begs for mercy from the soldiers. All he receives in reply is a dirty grin, and a drawing of a sword. And then, with the sound of a sword unsheathed from its holder, you see it enter the belly of your beloved father. ...And then your mother. And then your older brother is grabbed by the soldiers to be taken off to slavery in Rome. You know you will never see him again. You can't even say goodbye. Your sister, your precious sister is used for enjoyment for the soldiers. After her ordeal, she was never the same. You only survived because … well, you don’t know why. Perhaps to be a witness and tell others of the brutality waiting for those who dare defy the Roman Empire. You think this must be a punishment from G-d… nay, it's a consequence, as G-d had already warned the Jewish People to keep the commandments, to love their fellow Jew, to walk in G-d’s ways. And we knew what would happen if the nation did not.
And now it is 2,000 years later. And we are still fasting for the destruction of the Temple. We observe the Jewish holidays to remember, to learn the lesson, to make a ‘tikkun’ or ‘fix’ what we did wrong. And as long as we don’t do it, as long as we don’t ‘get it right’, we are going to keep going through these mournful holidays, ….until we do get the message, and get it right.
While we don’t have to agree with every Jew on every front, we do need to love that Jew and show respect. Every human being deserves respect. How much more so our brothers? For though we may not see eye to eye, we must give them the benefit of the doubt (if they are decent people).
Of the 12 Tribes of Israel, each had different personalities and talents. They didn’t have to all be the same. However, they still had to love each other. And when using the word ‘love’, one would be wise to use it as a verb, not just an adjective or a 'feeling' as Hollywood teaches us through movies.
What is using love as a verb? It means showing kindness, patience, concern, and aiding our loved ones when they could use the help. One can easily ‘love’ someone, without feeling love. And in fact, when one does something over and over again for another person whom they don’t really care for, they eventually come to have positive feelings towards that person.
Let us pray and work at showing ‘love’ (as a verb) to our fellow Jew, give respect to our fellow Jew, religious or secular, Ashkenaz or Sepharad, Left wing or Right wing. And may we give each other the benefit of the doubt, and ‘get it right’ this time around, so next year we may merit to rejoice on Tisha B’Av, and not mourn and fast.
May all of you wonderful readers have an easy and meaningful fast!
G-d bless you!