The Exile of the Shechinah: A Message for Tisha B’Av

"Zion, in the glow of your beauty, awaken longing, awaken love. The souls of your children are forever bound to you …The realm of idols will vanish and pass away. But your realm remains forever, and all that is dedicated to you is forever. God has chosen you for His abode." (From the elegy, "Ode to Zion," by the noted 11th century sage, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi)
Dear Friends,
On the Fast of Tisha B'Av, we are mourning for the destruction of our Holy Temple, and for our long and painful exile. During the Temple era, we experienced the Shechinah - the Divine Presence – Dwelling in our midst. This uplifting and joyful experience was most intense within the Holy Temple.
The Ramban, a noted sage and kabbalist of the 13th century, explains that the Shechinah is also called "tzedek" - a biblical term for righteousness and justice (commentary to Genesis 14:18). Tzedek expresses the spirit of the Shechinah; thus when tzedek is present, the Shechinah is present. When we no longer lived in Zion according to the principle of tzedek, we were no longer able to experience the full presence of the Shechinah. The loss of our ability to fully experience the Shechinah is known as "the exile of the Shechinah." And when the Shechinah went into exile, the Temple was destroyed.
There are those who feel that the mourning of Tisha B'Av is no longer relevant. For example, in 19th century Germany, some "reformers" argued that the new civil rights granted to Jews had made Tisha B'Av outdated. In their view, the primary reason for the mourning for the Temple and Zion was the loss of our civil rights; thus, now that some of our civil rights were being restored in the new Germany, there was no longer any reason to mourn. In their view, “Berlin” was the new Zion. In our generation, there are those who argue that since the State of Israel exists, Tisha B'Av should be abolished. In their view, the primary reason for the mourning for the Temple and Zion was the loss of our political sovereignty; thus, now that we have our own country, flag, and army like all the other nations, there is no longer any reason to mourn.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in 1855 that those who wish to abolish Tisha B'Av totally misunderstand the primary reason for our mourning. They do not realize that Jewish tears are shed and Jewish hearts grieve over "the exile of the Shechinah." They forget that Zion is meant to serve as the "Sanctuary for the Shechinah." And they forget that this Sanctuary of the Shechinah is destined to be a center of justice and peace for all humankind, as it is written:
"It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of the Compassionate One will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Compassionate One, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of the Compassionate One from Jerusalem. He (the Messiah) will judge among the nations, and will settle the arguments of many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study war." (Isaiah 2:1-4)
When we yearn for the resurrection of Zion and the rebuilding of the Temple, teaches Rabbi Hirsch, we are not only yearning for our own renewal; we are also yearning for the renewal of the entire world. Rabbi Hirsch therefore makes the following, passionate protest to those who would abolish the mourning on Tisha B’Av:
"Does Israel alone scan the future for a sorely needed deliverance? Does only the Jewish salvation depend on the resurrection of Zion? Ask the states themselves whose jealously guarded interests you think it your duty to defend: ask these very states if they consider themselves to have reached the summit of human attainment, if they feel themselves already in possession of the magical wand of paradise which will bring the world eternal joy and peace. As them how much consolation they are bringing into the slums, how much joy to the poor. Have they been able to lift up the downtrodden, to banish wretchedness, crime and vice, to give strength to the lowly and humility to the highly placed? Ask them whether they have been able to banish the curse from this earth, when God had intended that it be blessed, whether they have already discovered even the rudiments of a political system which unites justice and love, and where saintliness and earthly joy can dwell side by side without conflict." (Collected Writings, Vol 1)
Rabbi Hirsch then observes: "The whole earth is thirsting for deliverance. Sorrow and misery in hovels and palaces, in cities and states, arouse messianic yearnings in every heart. It is not only the Jewish people whose redemption depends upon the rebuilding of Zion, and surely, their confident expectation that the redemption will indeed come about is not the least valuable dowry which the Jew brings with him into the community of nations."
In this spirit, during the afternoon service of Tisha B'Av, we chant the words of the following Divine promise:
"I will bring them to My sacred mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
Until that day arrives, we, together with all humankind, have reason to mourn the exile of the Shechinah and the loss of the Holy Temple.
Tisha B’Av, however, is also a day of hope. In fact, the Prophet proclaimed the Divine message that in the era of the final redemption, all the days of fasting will become days of rejoicing (Zechariah 8:14-15).
There is a tradition that Tisha B’Av is the birthday of the Messiah – a reminder that all our suffering will lead to the ultimate redemption. It is therefore relevant to mention that Tisha B’Av always falls on the same day of the week as the first day of Passover, a festival of redemption, for Tisha B’Av is also connected to redemption. An allusion to the redemptive theme of this day is found in the following passage from the Book of Lamentations which we chant on Tisha B’Av:
“The lovingkindness of the Compassionate One surely has not ended, nor are His mercies exhausted. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! The Compassionate One is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
“Great is Your Faithfulness” – to fulfill all the Divine promises that You gave us (Rashi).
The Compassionate One promised us that the “Moshiach” – the Messiah - will arrive to inaugurate the messianic age, when Israel and the world will be redeemed. May we merit to greet the Moshiach and experience the universal enlightenment and redemption of this new age. And instead of the false promises of peace given by our enemies and their allies among the nations, may we be blessed with true and everlasting Shabbat Shalom.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said: "If the nations of the world would have known how valuable the Temple was for them, they would have surrounded it with fortresses, in order to protect it." (Bamidbar Rabbah 1:3)
2. The Fast of Tisha B'Av begins this Wednesday evening. On this evening, we gather in our synagogues, and the Book of Lamentations is chanted to an ancient and haunting melody. On Tisha B'Av, we study Torah themes relating to the destruction of the Temple, the exile, suffering, and "teshuvah" - the process of returning to the path of the Compassionate One. We also recall the many tragedies which happened to our people on Tisha B’Av. One modern tragedy which happened on this day was the terrorist bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 - a bombing which killed 86 people and wounded more than 120. It was later discovered that the terrorists were from Hizbullah, a terrorist organization which is sponsored by Iran with some help from Syria.
3. Although the Shechinah is in exile, there are holy places where the hidden Shechinah is more revealed; thus, to a limited degree, we can experience the Divine Presence. For example, Rabbi Acha said, "The Shechinah will never move from the Western Wall" (Exodus Rabbah 2:2). There are also holy days when the Shechinah is more revealed, such as Shabbos and the Festivals. For further information on Tisha B’Av, visit the Tisha B’Av section on  


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