The search for love is something shared between all of humanity. We long for love from our parents, siblings, partners, friends, community, and, most of the time, ourselves. There’s an almost unbearable incompleteness that gnaws from within when the hole of love remains empty. Rabbi David Aaron points out that society is quite obsessed with love — from movies, songs, literature, and the like, themes about love are a well-established cliché. It may seem surprising, then, to link the loss of love to Tisha B’Av, the day of fasting and commemoration for the destruction throughout Jewish History, namely the two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples).
In the Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, we learn that the light of creation was made from the very place of the Beit HaMikdash (3:4). In Kabbalah, when Hashem created the world, He began with that foundational light that is the building block of reality. This light was the light of love, which was the basis of the world, as it says in Tehillim: “The world is built by lovingkindness” (89:3). What, we may ask, does love have to do with the Beit HaMikdash?
When we normally think about the Beit HaMikdash, we tend to associate it with a past symbol of our national identity in our homeland or some vague descriptions of holiness. It may be more helpful to instead use experiential definitions as opposed to ideas that may not resonate at all.
This turns our attention to the Shechinah (Divine Presence) that dwelled in the Beit HaMikdash, and while we may envision a misty cloud or spirit, that is not quite the case.
The Shechinah is actually the manifestation of Hashem in the world. Experientially, we can relate this to moments we experienced immense, unconditional love. Relationships allow our souls — the essence of who we are — to receive and share, thereby expanding our sense of self through a connection that wholly fills our hearts. Even these few words barely point to the true feeling of love, which can only be understood through personal experience. Nevertheless, such a feeling is only a mere hint to encountering the Shechinah through the Beit HaMikdash, which is infinitely greater than we can imagine.
Relating our encounters with love to experiencing the Shechinah illustrates what the essence of living in a world with an awareness and consciousness of Hashem should be like. We must now explore what it means for us now that the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed.
In Talelei Chaim: Tefillah, The Chalban shares a particularly important idea for us. He writes, “The Mikdash is attached to the earth, with it in all its movements. Like the moon, which is diminished and filled, so is the Mikdash, the appearance of Hashem in the earth, it ascends and descends” (p. 22). The state of the Beit HaMikdash reflects the state of the Jewish People and the world. When we thrive, it thrives, and when we fail, it fails.
On Tisha B’Av, we reflect on and remember that the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed. If that site, where the greatest energy of Divine love and presence was felt, reflects our state, what does it say about where we are today? Baseless hatred, the Talmud says, caused the second Beit HaMikdash to crumble. Today, in the absence of a third Beit HaMikdash, we are reminded of the love we lack: from our friends, our family, and ourselves. Hashem, though, never stops loving us; we are always kept in His heart. The only remaining question is how we can channel that love into our own lives to rebuild our world on unconditional love.