Knowing what we are missing
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Baltimore Jewish Times
August 8, 2003
For most Jews around the world, yesterday passed like any other day. They did not observe any of the traditional mourning customs for Tisha B’Av. Indeed they don’t even know what historical events Tisha B’Av commemorates. Had they been told that the mourning is for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, they would have been puzzled about why such long ago events should occasion any great sadness.
Even among those of us who fasted the entire day and observed the other "afflictions" of Tisha B’Av, there are few from whose eyes tears poured copiously during the reading of Lamentations, as was once common. We have lived so long in a world devoid of the sanctity represented by the Temple that we cannot comprehend what was lost. Nor can we conceive how that level of holiness could once again be part of our lives.
The Temple Mount, where the Temples stood, is today less a symbol of our past than of how alienated we are from that past. Successive Israeli governments casually permitted the Moslem Wakf to systematically destroy all evidence of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The Moslem Wakf was permitted, in recent years, to build two new large mosques on the site, one by converting the ancient stables of Solomon. All this work was carried out without any archaeological supervision, as required by the Antiquities Law.
In the course of the work, thousands of tons of dirt were dumped unceremoniously in the Kidron Valley. Discovered later in the rubble was a three-foot long stone fragment, which one archaeologist called "the most important artifact ever recovered from the Temple Mount."
The lack of regard for the site to which Jews throughout the millennia have always turned in prayer was fully reflected in the negotiations following Camp David. Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to cede all sovereignty over the Temple Mount in return only for a Palestinian acknowledgment of the Jewish claim of a historical connection. Even that Arafat was unwilling to grant.
Arafat wanted the Jews to abase themselves by conceding that their holiest place is more important to Arabs than it is to Jews. Such abasement, he knew, would be one more cut in the ever more tenuous bonds joining the Jews of Israel to their past. (Natan Sharansky revealed recently that less than 50% of Israeli high school students living outside Jerusalem have ever visited the capital, much less the Western Wall.)
The Palestinians understand, as we do not, that a nation without a past is a nation without a future. Palestinian legislator Selah Temari writes in his memoirs of his shock at seeing his Jewish jailer eating bread on Pesach. In response to Temari’s query, the guard replied, "Do you really expect me not to eat bread today because of something that happened over 3,000 years ago?" That night, Temari relates, he could not sleep. In the course of the night, he went from believing that Israel was invincible to being convinced that the Palestinians could one day regain the entirety of the Land because the Jews have lost their sense of connection.
THE TEMPLE, of course, was not just a building or a geographical location. When the pilgrims poured into Jerusalem from all over the Land for the Festivals, the Temple became the great symbol of Jewish unity – a physical manifestation, write Nachmanides, of the unity at Sinai when we received the Torah as "one man with one heart."
In the wilderness, the Jews lived surrounded by constant miracles. According to one interpretation, they cried on the night of Tisha B’Av night, after hearing the report of the Spies, because they doubted their ability to live in the same closeness to G-d upon entering the Land and resuming a normal physical existence.
The Temple, the dwelling place of the Divine Presence on earth, provided proof that the relationship could be maintained even within the confines of the natural world. When, however, the people lost their internal unity and were no longer worthy of having the Divine Presence in their midst, the Temple was destroyed.
Today evidence of our continued alienation from G-d is everywhere. Two generations ago, Israel was one of the most egalitarian societies in the world; today it is characterized by one of the sharpest income gaps. Rates of school violence are among the highest in the industrialized world, and the trafficking in woman as chattel makes Israel one of the centers of white slavery.
Israeli teenagers are the unhappiest in the Western world, according to the World Health Organization. The Jewish soul seeks a connection to its Source, and when that is absent it shrivels.
Our alienation from our past and from the One Whose presence dwelt in the Temple G-d can only be remedied through an awareness of what we once possessed and are now lacking.
"All those who mourn for Jerusalem," say our Sages, "will one day witness her rejoicing." Until we can cry for our estrangement on an individual and collective level from the irreducible point of divinity within, the pilgrims’ song of rejoicing will not be heard.
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, The Three Weeks & Tisha B'Av
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list