By Larry Gordon
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King told me the following story a few years ago.
A large tour group from India was being shown the sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Aside from the tour guide, an Indian clergyman was also leading the group.
According to Arieh King, they were viewing from a distance the area where the Beit HaMikdash once stood. The guide explained that this was the location where, 2,000 years ago, the two Holy Temples that housed G-d’s Presence once stood but that they had long ago been destroyed by the enemies of the Jewish people.
The Indian spiritual leader, hearing the Israeli tour guide explain how we remember the temple that once stood there, interrupted the presentation, and inquired innocently: “If it was destroyed and that is the location, why don’t you just rebuild it?”
I suppose that to some that’s a “klutz kasheh,” but to others it is a very pertinent and important question. If even the so-called radicals and extremists in Israel would undertake to rebuild the Temple, there would be seismic explosions from every direction, particularly from within our very own Jewish community, not to mention the UN, the U.S., and everyone else on the planet.
Besides, our tradition says that the third and eternal Beit HaMikdash is already in existence in the heavens, and with our national redemption and with the advent of Mashiach, that Holy Temple will descend from the upper world and fit perfectly into that holy place in a fashion that will connect us to those days of yore.
But frankly, there is a problem. And that is the way in which we are so in stride with the galus, or diaspora, lifestyle. At the same time, however, it is important to point out that after all these centuries of this way of living, how can we be blamed for being so comfortable?
Two weeks ago, when in Israel, we made our way up to the greatest viewpoint of the Temple Mount—the Aish HaTorah porch that looks straight down on the Kotel and over the wall at the golden-domed mosque that dominates the area that’s the centerpiece of Jewish life on so many levels.
There is an ongoing debate as to whether we are allowed to visit the Temple Mount these days. It is difficult to categorize who feels it is permitted to ascend Har HaBayit and who does not, because within almost every sect of Torah life there are those who depart from what is considered that group’s policy on the matter. But there is no dispute about looking at the area where someday our Holy Temple will once again stand.
And if there is ever a time to gaze at that area and contemplate its history, it is this time of year. After all, that is where the foundation stone of the world is located. It is that precise location where Avraham Avinu traveled with the intent of sacrificing his son Yitzchak. And it is that location King David determined would be the capital of Israel after a number of years in Hebron. This is the place Hashem designated for building His holy abode on earth.
And since Tishah B’Av occurs on Shabbos this week, it brings to the fore a whole set of new possibilities about our national future. Firstly, it is pointed out that this setup actually moves a day that is otherwise one of the most difficult and sad days on our calendar. So what does this illustrate? Well, among other things, it is the power of the joyfulness that is an aspect of Shabbos, a type of oneg that even Tishah B’Av cannot eclipse.
That is unlike Yom Kippur, which, when it falls out on a Saturday our usual way of marking or observing Shabbos takes a bit of a back seat. But this weekend, as you might be reading these words, it will be a Shabbos day as usual—Kiddush Club, kugel, cholent, and the works.
So powerful is Shabbos, by the way, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe comments in his writings that on a Shabbos like this it is imperative to add a special celebratory food to your menu, something that elevates the day of Shabbos, to prevent the possible seepage of any type of mourning that Tishah B’Av heralds into our Shabbos celebration.
And that is not only about how to deal with the scheduling this year. Indeed it is very much Tishah B’Av, but in reality it is the tenth of the month. According to our laws, for example, if there is a bris on Sunday the 10th this year, it is different than other years, as the father of the child, the mohel, and the sandek are permitted to eat to celebrate the momentous event.
Most importantly, when the 9th of Av is moved to the next day, it is a step, perhaps a giant step, in the direction of the future when Tishah B’Av will no longer be a day of mourning but a festive yom tov. In actuality, that is what we have this weekend—a Tishah B’Av treated as if it is a great holiday.
There is something additionally incongruous about how we observe this time of year, as pointed out by the Rav, Rav J.B. Soloveichik. The Rav observed that there is something different and even backward about how we mourn for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash as contrasted with any other type of mourning.
In conventional mourning, the order is from most intense to less so. In our personal lives, there is the seven-day shivah, then the shloshim (30 days), and then for a parent the full year of aveilus.
Here it seems to be exactly the opposite. First, we observe a lighter type of mourning in the Three Weeks. Then we switch to a stricter and sadder mourning in the Nine Days. It culminates with the maximum mourning of Tishah B’Av itself.
This type of mourning functions contrary to the human psyche. The Rav points out that this reverse type of mourning is most abnormal. And this, he explains, in his inimitable way, is because a Jew living without a Beit HaMikdash is just not normal.
Here’s hoping for permanent change soon and in our days.
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