Tisha B’Av: lovers engaged in memory

The intense emotional reality of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is illustrated by Rav Q’tina’s report that when the festival pilgrims entered the Temple, the curtain before the Holy Ark was opened; and the pilgrims were informed that their love for God was like the Cherubim intertwined with each other expressing the love of male and female. (Yoma 54a) A loving couple is continually in love even when separated, but when they at last come together in each other’s arms, every touch is extraordinarily intense.

Resh Laquish added, “When strangers entered the Temple and saw the Cherubim intertwined with each other, they brought them out to the marketplace to mock ‘a holy people who occupy themselves with such things’. As it is written. (Lamentations 1:8) “All those who used to honor her, mocked her because they saw her shameful nakedness.” (Yoma 54b)

What is an intimate, sacred expression of love to a pilgrim, is to an outsider in the marketplace, foolish and shameful. However, for those who walked for many days to go up to Jerusalem, the atmosphere of excitement and exaltation in Jerusalem uplifted the spirits of the pilgrims so high that material conditions and occasional irritations went unnoticed. Everything was full of wonders. Everyone gave generously.

A Midrash relates that King Agrippa once desired to bring 1,000 offerings to the Temple, all in one day. He told the high priest to let no one else offer anything that day. A poor man came to offer two doves and was told the alter is only for the king today. He replied that each day he captures four doves. “Two I offer up and two I eat.”

The high priest decided to offer them up.

When King Agrippa heard about it he challenged the high priest who explained the situation and then said, “Should I have refused him?” The king replied, “You did the right thing.” (Leviticus Rabbah 3:5) Such devotion from a poor commoner and such humility from a King is indeed inspiring.

But more important than individual examples of pious morality are an example of ongoing institutional moral sensitivity.. The Mishnah (Shekalim 5:6) relates that, “in the Temple there was a Chamber of Secret Charity. Pious people used to deposit their contributions in it secretly, and poor people who were descended from well-to-do families (and ashamed to accept aid from public charities) entered and were supported from it in secret”.

Thus people would not know if a person entering the Chamber of Secret Charity was a giver or a taker. But this would only work if those in need practiced self restraint and did not go in to frequently. Where else could such a system work?

The city herself took on the responsibility to be a special city. No attachments to windows or balconies were permitted to protrude over Jerusalem’s thoroughfares lest pilgrims be hurt by them. Garbage dumps were not allowed to be maintained in the city. Chickens could not be raised in the city and a corpse had to be taken outside the city for burial on the day of its death. (Talmud Baba Kama 82b)

Although most cities resent the crowds of people who descend upon them a certain times of the year, the people of Jerusalem welcomed the pilgrims. Even two centuries later Rabbi Joshua ben Levi could say that Jerusalem was “a city that makes all Israel feel the fellowship that binds them together”. (Jerusalem Talmud Hagigah 3:6)

For all these reasons the Talmud says (Kiddushin 49b) “Ten measures of excellence came down into the world and Jerusalem got nine of them”.

The Talmud also asserts (Sukkot 51a) “One who never saw Jerusalem in its glory has never seen an exquisite city. One who never saw the Temple in its final construction has never seen a magnificent building.”

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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