“Hopefully, we won’t need to fast this year…”

It was a sentiment I kept hearing in the days that led up to Tisha B’Av, and I had a funny reaction to it. I don’t generally like to be a dasher of hopes, and I try to cultivate an attitude of optimism, but I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from challenging this wistful wish with some hard reality. Let’s face the facts: the Jewish people are not ready for a third Temple, and if it would be built now, the results would disastrous.

Don’t get me wrong. I yearn for a third Temple. I sincerely pray for it multiple times daily.

(I tend to doubt that we’ll bring animal sacrifices when it’s rebuilt, although the truth is, I suspect that the daily suffering and brutality that we fund and ignore to enable our milk, eggs and meat far exceeds anything that ever happened at the Temple at its busiest.)

But the central idea of the Temple, as it is presented in chapter 12, is the idea of a center, and it still has great power and relevance. It is presented as the antithesis of religious worship which happens everywhere and anywhere,”on hills and high places, in valleys, under every tree.” What’s wrong with this? Isn’t more prayer in more places a good thing? Isn’t this our reality now, with different types of houses of worship to fit every type, style and need?

The issue isn’t pluralism or relativism. That would have been solved by demanding uniform standards of worship, in whatever place it happened. The issue is a religious worship in which we don’t need to make room for someone with different needs than our own. Having one central location is meant to bind our vertical (person-God) commitments to our horizontal (person-person) ones. If we’re going to all come together in prayer, we need to figure out how to get along, how to make peace with one another.

For this reason, the obligation to build a Temple can only begin once we’re reached ‘menucha ve’nachala‘ — a state of national peace. War may, at times, be necessary, but it’s the antithesis to the Temple, which is a tool to create and hold peace in this world.

Without a doubt, we haven’t arrived there yet. We are at war with enemies from without, and, even more tragically, we are at war within, with one another. There is nothing that would desecrate the Temple more than transferring to it the bickering and power struggles that currently occur at the Kotel.

If we really want to rebuild the Temple, if we really want to turn the fasts over destruction into feasts of rejoicing, we first need to figure out how we can make peace with one another, how we can come together in prayer, without the power of the state or the court to enforce our views and criminalize anyone who disagrees with them. Any temple we construct before then is already burnt before it is built.

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This is a blog of short reflections on the daily 929 chapter of Tanach. I’d love to hear your comments and thoughts. Learn more at 929.org.il