With Hashem's help, Israeli soldiers were able to reunite the city of Jerusalem during the Six Day War fought in 1967. As they fought into the Old City, the Jews were finally able to lay their eyes on the sole physical remnant of the Bait Hamikdash. The emotion of the moment was overwhelming, as the observant soldiers ran to the wall crying and praying at its side. Not understanding the significance of the ancient wall, many of the non-observant soldiers watched from the side. Suddenly, one of the irreligious soldiers burst into tears. He was crying simply because he did not understand what there was to cry about. He realized that this wall was very significant, but the fact that he did not understand its significance brought him to tears.
Towards the end of the period of the first Bait Hamikdash, the prophet Yeshaya prophesied the destruction of Yerushalayim (Yeshaya 22:1-14). He described how the people were preparing weapons, creating reservoirs, and climbing to the rooftops in preparation for battle. Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century commentator on the Torah, explains that Yeshaya was rebuking the people for exercising so many battle preparations and not preforming Teshuvah (repentance) and not increasing Mitzva observance. We learn that the only reason the enemies were able to attack was because the Jewish People sined, had they rectified their transgressions through proper repentance and involvement in Mitzvot, Hashem would have removed the enemy without battle preparations. By remaining steeped in their sins, even the most advanced weaponry and strategies would not protect them from a Heavenly-decreed destruction. The Jewish people were focusing on the superficial problem of the battle, while failing to attend to their sins, represented the real battle.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 1:1) states that every generation in which the Bait Hamikdash is not rebuilt is considered to have destroyed it because every generation since the destruction has been involved in the same sins that caused its original demise. Had the Bait Hamikdash still existed in later times, the sins of those generations would have similarly caused its destruction. So, every generation which promotes this atmosphere is held accountable.
When confronted with concepts relating to the Temple's destruction. They are often view them as a distant and unrelated phenomena. We realize that the Bait Hamikdash was destroyed, and we know that we are awaiting the arrival of Mashiach, but we often miss the connection between these seemingly esoteric ideas and ourselves. The Yerushalmi is teaching us that there truly is a direct connection. In every generation, the Bait Hamikdash has the potential to be rebuilt, but the sins of that generation, the same sins which caused the original destruction, prevent its reconstruction. The destruction is not an unrelated event that took place thousands of years ago, but a continuous tragedy had occured in every generation since the Churban. It is our duty to rectify our sins in order to merit the coming of Mashiach.
The Rambam writes that the primary purpose of a fast day is not the fast itself. Rather, the purpose of a fast day is to bring us to introspection and to do Teshuva. When we realize the painful events in history that our fast commemorates, and we recognize that those events only transpired because of our sins, we will think about how we can rectify our actions. The Rambam continues that people who do not eat on fast days but go on trips and involve themselves in their everyday routine are missing the point. While refraining from eating and drinking is required regardless of our feelings, if we only fast and do not make an effort to introspect, then we have let the opportunity provided by the fast to slip right by.
Teshuva is an essential part of every fast day, especially Tishah B'Av. On Tishah B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the Bait Hamikdash, and we remember the tragedies that have befallen our people since that time. We must use the mood that its observance sets to focus on what the loss of the Bait Hamikdash means to us, as well as to inspire ourselves to improve ourselves.
The soldier cried at the Western Wall because he did not understand what there was to be crying about. This should be our reaction as well. Two thousand years in exile has dulled our senses. We have such difficulty relating to major facets of Jewish life. Of the 613 Mitzvot in the Torah, only a fraction of them can be performed today without the Bait Hamikdash. Also, when we read through the Torah portions that describe the Korbanot and the glorious services that were performed in the Bait Hamikdash, we have no point of reference. Without the Bait Hamikdash we are incomplete - a major aspect of our Torah lifestyle is lacking - and we don't even feel its loss! Our reaction to this should be the same as the soldier's. When we know that we are missing so much, but can't even understand the loss, that is reason to cry. We should cry on Tishah B'Av because we don't understand what we should be crying about.
This Tishah B'Av let us focus on the loss that we have incurred. Let us tap into the emotions of the day - which are amplified by the Kinot and the physical abstentions - to inspire ourselves to introspect. We must examine our deeds, especially those that involve our interaction with other people, and try to correct those activities that need work. Then, when we return to Hashem through Teshuva, may we be worthy of Mashiach's arrival.
In the words of the Tachanun prayer "Hashem, look down from the Heavens and see that we have become an object of scorn among the nations. We have been considered like sheep and led to slaughter, to be killed destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. But despite all this, we have not forgotten Your name. (We still remain dedicated Jews, following Your Torah and Mitzvot.) Please, do not forget about us." As we mourn this Tisha B'Av, let us find ways to enhance our bond with Hashem, and dedicate ourselves to a higher level of Torah observance. Through this, may Hashem bring Mashiach speedily in our days. May we all be together next year in the rebuilt Yerushalayim.