The Torah is replete with prohibitions against idol worship, in all its many potential iterations. On first read, that seems surprising. Are we really tempted to shave the sides of our face to palliate some god’s temper? Does it really seem probable that statues of wood or stone have any real power? Idolatry, on the face of it, seems patently absurd. Yet, the Torah is full of admonitions against idolatry and lists serious consequences for individuals or communities who stray.
How can we understand this?
We are taught that, at one time, the drive for idol worship was as strong as all of our other body drives. It was a physical urge that raged within us; we needed to suppress or sublimate it. But the Jewish people kept failing the test. The drive was too powerful.
As the Talmud describes, our sages beseeched the Heavens. “Please remove this desire for idol worship from our nature.” And the Almighty granted their wish. No longer was idolatry an internal physical desire. That urge disappeared. But there was a price to pay.
The flip side of the desire to worship idols is the intense desire for a relationship with the Almighty. That would have been the appropriate way to redirect the urge.
Now, instead, they are both gone – the powerful and overwhelming desire to worship idols along with the powerful and overwhelming desire to connect with our Creator.
Yes, we want a relationship with God. Yes, we know it’s good. Yes, we know it’s comforting. Yes, we know it’s right and true. But do we long for it with a passion?
Tisha B’Av gives us a chance to understand and feel what we lost. It gives us a glimpse of life when the whole world yearned to be close to the Almighty. And it gives us a vision of the future. Tisha B’Av is an opportunity to understand what it means to passionately desire a relationship with the Almighty and to live with that reality.
It gives us a chance to recapture that intense desire to bond with our Creator. But it’s no longer a gift. We have to work at it. Hard.
Tisha B’Av allows us to jump start that process. As we focus on what’s lost, we can also visualize what could be – and therefore be motivated to bring that new world into existence.
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning but it’s also a time for hope. The Temple will be rebuilt. We just need to channel our drives into really wanting it.