Tisha B’Av and Us

“If I forget about you Jerusalem, may my right hand forget it’s strength. May my toungue cling to my palate if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my highest joy…” –Psalm 137:5-6

A few weeks ago, as I was working in the archaeology excavations, the archaeologist at our site came up to me and said, “Hey, Yehonatan, come here…” As I walked over to what might have been considered his makeshift office on the dig, he opened up a box and looked at me. I looked in the box, and saw that as big as the box was, it was full of black ash. I looked up at him as he looked at me intensely and he said to me in our native language, “This is ash from the destruction of the First Temple…”

As things from the past become more distant, it is hard to remember them, much less their purpose for being there. Indeed, these days throughout the world, memory of the Holocaust slowly fades away, as well as the sacrifices of those who fought in the war surrounding it. As those who can tell of what it was truly like to be there leave us with the passage of time, more and more our events become deposited in the history books and classes where in most cases, numbers of lives, dates and names become little more than a memorization exercise for the bored student simply trying to make a grade. How much more so could we say that it is indeed hard to empathize with the destruction of what most people would look as a fair architectural feat of the ancient times, and yet nothing more. “OK, so our temple was destroyed twice a couple millenia ago. Wars and destruction of cities happen. From arguably the first emperor of the ancient world, Sargon of Akadia to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bad things happen to people and cities during war time. Is it worth fasting and crying over?” Once again, to truly know what we have lost, we must make an attempt to remember it’s purpose.

In Jewish tradition, there is a story of an interesting encounter between the Greek philosopher Plato, and the prophet Jeremiah. Plato happens upon Jeremiah after the destruction of the First Temple. As Plato approaches, he sees that Jeremiah is crying over it’s destruction. Plato coolly advises Jeremiah not to grieve over a building. Jeremiah doesn’t answer this statement, but a certain deep discussion begins to take place between the prophet and the philosopher. After some time, Plato finally says to Jeremiah, “How did you learn such wisdom? Where did you get it from?” Jeremiah replies, “From the building that was destroyed.”

In Psalm 67, we see a certain outline of our (The Jewish Nation’s) mission. starting in verses 2 and 3, it says, “May G-d favor us and bless us, may he shine His face upon us, selah (According to Onkelos’ Aramaic translation in the priestly blessing, G-d’s face is His “Presence,” His Shechinah–the ultimate ideal of harmony with the divine). To make known ( la’da’at) Your way on earth, among all nations Your salvation…”

I believe that while many of us might have different points of view about what the ultimate ideal for earth might look like, one thing is for sure, we all long for it, whatever it might be. How do we find it? According to Psalm 67, the true catch is when G-d’s way on earth is made known. The Hebrew term for this,  la’da’at  is defined as more than just hypothetical knowledge, it is defined as true, undoubtable intimate experience. According to the Artscroll Commentary on the Psalms, this particular Psalm was revealed to both Moses and David–the one who built the first dwelling place for G-d’s presence in the nation of Israel, and the one who took Jerusalem from Israel’s enemies, and was able to pinpoint the exact ground on Mount Zion which the temple was to be built. It is no coincidence that the two greatest leaders of the nation of Israel who had so much involvement with the making of a place for G-d’s presence. Both of these leaders to whom this Psalm was revealed have had in our spiritual history an extremely strong connection of making space for G-d’s presence in our world. 

Indeed, the prophet Isaiah’s assertions that Israel is to be a “Light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6), and that the temple shall be a “House of prayer for all nations”(Isaiah 56:7) completely revolves around the temple being built–for us making a true geographical space for the actual presence of our Creator is to connect on such an amazing level, that it gives abundance not only to the Nation of Israel, but to the entire world. Connection with the Creator is what the temple was truly all about.

While today we have a certain level of connection, what was lost in 586 BCE and 70 CE, and what continues to be lost generation after generation, as through the passage of time we move further and further away from what is attempted by any good rabbi to pass down, truly is heartbreaking.

When we fail to unite and build the temple, we not only fail ourselves, but we fail the entire world, despite what we may hear the world telling us. We fail to end world hunger. We fail to end all war and bloodshed. We fail on a massive scale on our mission. That kid who was raped? That victim burned to death by ISIS? That school shooting? We didn’t do our job by attempting to make the ultimate connection to the Creator that could end all of that.

When the Muslim community protests en’ mass like it did in July, 2017 about the fact the Israeli government simply wanted to put metal detectors up for security that could only momentarily hinder their connection with the Temple Mount, it means that they care more about the sacred and connection to the Creator than we do, because while we remain nice Jews who show up to minyan on time and make sure we get our studying in, there are no Jews protesting for the temple in the streets with the same kind of passion and zeal with which our brother Ishmael does. Thus, Ishmael despite all of his flaws, remains more deserving of the temple mount than we. We sleep well at night while the world literally screams out and shreaks in pain over it’s lack of connection to the Creator.

As the Jerusalem Talmud states, “Every generation in which the temple is not built, it is as if it was destroyed in it’s day.” This is truly something to cry about.

May Hashem grant us the inner fire, zeal and passion and strength to unite our nation and rebuild the temple speedily in our days.

About the Author
Yehonatan was born in Dover, Tennessee, US. After converting to Judaism under the conservative movement, he made Aliyah, and converted again in Jerusalem under the Israeli Rabbanut at Machon Meir. He lives in Northern Israel with his wife, daughter, and son.
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