Tonight is the start of Tisha B'Av, the Ninth Day of the month of Av, known as the saddest day of the year.
Quite simply, Tisha B'Av marks the many occasions the world has attempted to destory the Jewish people.
A few famous mentionables (from this article):
• During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
• The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
• The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
• The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar -- the Jews' last stand against the Romans -- was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
• The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city -- renamed Aelia Capitolina -- and access was forbidden to Jews.
More modern events:
1.The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B'Av in 1492.
2.World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
3.On the eve of Tisha B'Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.
So we commemorate by a national period of mourning. We mourn for all of the suffering endured, and we mourn for the suffering that continues. We mourn for the Temple that was destroyed, and for the dis-unity among our people that led to that destruction, and continues to prevent its rebuilding. We mourn the lack of Divine Presence in this world.
At the same time, Tisha B'Av is like a call to arms. How can we make a turn for the better? It all starts with the individual. The individual learns to love his/her neighbor unconditionally, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to help in times of need, to commit deeds of living-kindness. And then you have a whole family acting in this way. And then a whole community. And a whole loving-kindness culture is formed. And that is how we can change the world.
Is it do-able? Absolutely. Is it difficult? Yes it is. It is so easy to do what is instinctual, so easy to say what you think. But to say a kind word (when you don't feel like it), or to lend a hand (when you are running late yourself), or to withhold saying something inappropriate (even though you're right)....that is what will change the course of the world.
All it takes is one individual. And one, and one, and one, and one...So mourn today. And tomorrow is a brand new day.