Jerusalem is Built, So Why Do We Still Mourn?

Jerusalem is Built,
So Why Do We Still Mourn?

As seen in the 'Tisha B'av Companion'

  3rd edition of the 'Holiday Companion Series'- Nathan Zaboulani

Approximately 3.5million tourists visit Israel every year. They celebrate at the Kotel, savore the fantastic cuisine of Israel’s top restaurants, unwind in lavish hotels, relax by the Eilat beach and enjoy the lively Tel Aviv nightlife. Israel is one of the most amazing places to go on vacation and has everything a tourist could ever want. Living in Israel is also easier than ever. The economy is booming, the education is excellent and the standard of living is higher than it has ever been. All of these factors make the following question particularly bothersome: why are we still mourning? What is the purpose of this twenty-five hour fast in the middle of our summer vacation? Why do we mention in practically every single Jewish prayer “May the city of Jerusalem be rebuilt”? Is the city of Jerusalem not built? It is the capital of a powerful state with a tremendous army, economy and government!


One could easily make the argument that this day of mourning we have been practicing for two thousand years has run its course. We have our state, we have the Kotel and more Jews currently live in Israel than in any other country; what more could we want? If this is the way you feel, you are probably not alone.


Yet maybe the fact that we feel this way is why we need Tisha B’Av now more than ever. It is particularly this fallacy of contentment that makes Tisha B’Av arguably the single most significant day in the Jewish calendar. On one hand we celebrate on Yom HaAtzmaut to commemorate all that we have accomplished in regards to Israel, but we mourn on Tisha B’Av to remind ourselves what we are still missing. And sadly, that list is very long. 

The reality is that we tend not to bother ourselves with this state of incompleteness. Why focus on the bad when there is so much good? Yet our Rabbis teach us:

“כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה

Those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit to see it in its state of happiness (i.e. rebuilt).”[1]


Only if we are conscious of how far we are from Israel’s real glory, will we have the chance to one day see it in its true beauty. It is actually because we have mourned for Jerusalem for two thousand years that we have progressed so much in acquiring and developing it. If we didn't have the yearly mourning of the destroyed Jerusalem, we would have forgotten about it long ago.


In the context of mourning, our Rabbis illustrate the idea of remembering and forgetting. Yaakov Avinu received the most tragic news a person could ever bear to hear. He was told that his favorite son, Yosef, was killed. All the evidence laid before him pointed to the fact that Yosef was torn apart by wild animals. The Midrash[2] illustrates the tough life Yaakov would live for the next twenty-two years: he was so distraught by his son’s apparent death that he was inconsolable. In this melancholy state, he lost the ability to communicate with God, for we know that a prophet can only receive prophecy in a sublime-elated state.[3] 


What is unique about Yaakov’s depression is that it lasted for so long. Generally a person will mourn the deceased for a year, which is why we have the custom of saying kadish the year the loved one has passed. While we often see forgetfulness as a curse, in this context it is one of the greatest blessings. If it weren't for this gift, the ability to forget, we would constantly be living with the immense pain of losing a loved one. Yaakov however simply could not move on. Hashem did not bestow upon him the gift of closure.[4] That is because Yosef was in fact still alive. There was still hope for him to be reunited with his son.


It is for that reason we still mourn for the destruction of the Temple. The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, but that loss is not a permanent loss. We know that a day will come when we will rebuild the Temple. And until that day comes, we will continue to lament its destruction. The perpetuation of our mourning is not because it was destroyed, rather because it has yet to be restored.




While the State of Israel has flourished more in the past seventy years than any other nation, we are still without our most prized possession. There is only one place in all of Israel that it is illegal for a person to worship freely. That location is the Temple Mount. Yes, in our very own country we are the only ones not allowed, by international law, to pray where we so desire. Worst of all, the very place we are forbidden to pray is our holiest site. A Jew caught praying, or even carrying a siddur is immediately apprehended by Israeli police and could be sent to prison. Without the Temple Mount, there is no Beit Hamikdash.


The lack of our Beit Hamikdash means that practically half of the Torah's commandments are unachievable.


Korbanot (sacrifices) are not practiced in the absence of the Temple. We have no High Priest to atone for us on Yom Kippur. The beautifulmitzvot of bikkurim (first fruits), hakhel (public Torah reading in the Temple), para aduma (the red heifer), proper visits to the Temple (aliya laregel) and many more are simply impossible to perform.


It is not only the Beit Hamikdash that we are lacking. We are also without an organized Sanhedrin–the Supreme Court of Jewish law. The very same customs and laws that are supposed to unite us as a people, are now one of the causes of national divide. It is a result of the fact that we have no system for discerning national law. This is what we pray for every day: “השיבה שופטינו כבראשונה ויועצינו כבתחילה—Return to us our judges of old, and our sages of counsel as they were in the beginning.”


We also are lacking peace. We are under constant existential threat by almost all of our surrounding neighbors. War frequents itself on our small nation’s doorstep, and even when we are not at war, Israeli citizens are constantly subject to terrorist attacks.[5] As if physical danger wasn’t enough, Israel is constantly criticized and boycotted, especially on college campuses. Young naïve Jewish students all over America get caught up in Anti-Israel propaganda and end up being Israel’s main adversaries.


We are so fortunate to have the State of Israel. It is incumbent upon every Jew to visit, support and advocate for our incredible country. Yet there is much work to be done. Let this Tisha B’Av be an opportunity to reflect on how much we have to look forward to. “Those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit and see it in its rejoice.”


[1] BT Taanit 30b

[2] אבות דרבי נתן פרק ל

[3] BT Shabbat 30b; MT Hil Yesode Hatorah 7:4; Melakhim 2 chapter 3; Shemoneh Perakim Ch.7.

[4] Only after he hears the news that Yosef is alive is he able to receive prophecy. Bereshit 45:27, Onkelus translates this as- וּשְׁרַת רוּחַ נְבוּאָה עַל יַעֲקֹב אֲבוּהוֹ . Rashi- ותחי רוח יעקב שרתה עליו שכינה שפירשה ממנו.

[5] I was personally endangered and traumatized by such an attack. While visiting Israel as best man for a friend’s wedding in 2014, our car was bombarded by large rocks while we were stopped at a red light in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood. The groom happened to be in the front seat of that very car, and miraculously made it to his wedding on time and unscathed.