This Saturday night begins the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Tisha Bíav, the night of the month of Av is the day on which both the first and second Temples were destroyed. The city of Betar, with its tremendous Jewish population, was also razed on that day, as well as numerous other calamities. To mark this day, we fast from sundown on Saturday (7:59pm) until night fall on Sunday (8:43pm).
The Shabbos before this sad day is called Shabbos Chazon. This name is given because of the special Haftorah that we read on this day- the prophecy of Yeshaya (Isaiah) foretelling of the impending destruction of the Temple, beginning with the word Chazon Yeshaya (Vision of Isaiah). In this Haftorah, the prophet decrees many sins and calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. The prophet warns of very strong punishments that Hashem will send upon them if they donít repent.
Among the specific calamities told of by Isaiah, he mentions that the Ketores (incense) offering will no longer be wanted by Hashem. We know that there were many different sacrifices offered in the Temple. Why, of all these sacrifices, is the Ketores singled out?
In the famous work Mehech Chochmah, a beautiful explanation is offered. The sages tell us that the ketores consisted of 11 different spices. Ten of them smelled pleasant. The eleventh one, chelbanah, had a foul odor. The Ketores is not Kosher, unless it has the chelbenah in it. What lesson does the chelbenah teach us?
The Talmud tells us that we learn from chelbenah that every type of Jew must be included when we pray. If our fast days are with a group that doesnít include any sinners, it is not a good fast day. Just as the chelbanah is covered over by the other spices, so too the people of a congregation atone for each other, If one is arrogant, one speaks Loshon Hora (evil gossip), one doesnít keep kosher, one gets angry, as a group then can unite and learn from each other.
This was one of the great accomplishments in the Temple. When everyone united to pray together, their prayers were similar in power to the Ketores. When Jews lost their unity, and didnít care for each other, the chelbenah was left separate, unattached to the other spices. This is what Isaiah pointed out to the Jewish people. If we donít have unity we donít stand united together, then we are a ketores that lost its fragrance.
May we soon see the unity of the entire Jewish people under one banner, to serve Hashem and to sanctify his name, as Tisha Bíav changes from a day of mourning to a holiday.