It's been a long exile. There's been enough suffering to fill countless books, but the exile itself is the result of something more tragic, the destruction of the dream that Hashem wants us to live up to. Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of both Temples. Why is this relevant when we have so much more to mourn in the thousands of years that have passed? I want to take your time in writing a letter just about the Bais HaMikdash, so that you can know what it is that led to the exile, and why its destruction is still relevant. I am even more long winded than usual, so be patient.
If you were to ask any of the thousands of multi-cultured inhabitants if their lives were touched by Avraham's life, they would have to say yes. Belief in one G-d, and commitment to live a G-dly life all started with him. He changed the course of the world's history. I am going to recap his story for those who are less familiar with his life. The rest of you can space out. As a child, he was hidden in a cave. The ruler of the time, Nimrod (who may or may not have been Hammurabi) had dreamed that a child born on the day that Avraham entered the world would usurp his power, and sentenced each of the newborns to death. Three years later, he had his first glimpse at what you see every day. Color. Texture. Huge expanses of sky. Tiny insects hovering on the nearly infinite numbers of blades of grass.
A teacher in Bais Yaakov Sem here in Yerushalaim sometimes recounts her childhood. She was hidden in a cellar during the holocaust for days at a time. Her friends were the roaches and mice that inhabited her mini-world. She knew what the real world looked like. Avraham didn't. When the stars disappear by day, leaving the unrelenting heat and light of the sun, it diminished his awe of the stars. Sunset made him realize that the sun is vulnerable to the forces of darkness. Asking his father didn't give Avraham any real answers. What he saw that no one else did was that all that he would ever see is created by one supreme G-d who dominates all reality. Avraham devoted his life to seeking out and revealing the unified power that lies below the awesome plurality of creation. He made it his mission to bring Hashem down to earth by following the path of kindness and justice in his everyday life, and seeing Hashem's Hand in daily events.
IN THE TIME OF THE AVOS
Do you try to do this? Maybe? In Chicago, it isn't so easy. Hashem revealed the place that would nurture Avraham's vision, but first He gave him tests. Each test took him to a higher level of perception. Hashem finally took him to a place where the unity of Heaven and earth is most visible. The foundation stone of the entire world (even shetiya in Hebrew) is there. The mosque is built over it today. Adam offered sacrifices there (according to Rambam), so did Noach after the flood. These sacrifices had the effect of closing the gap between the animalistic nature hidden within you and your spiritual soul. This is where Avraham was told to bring Yitzchak to be an elevation offering. It was only when it was clear that Avraham would not falter, that Hashem sent an angel to tell him not to do anything to Yitzchak. The place was renamed. Avraham called it, "G-d will see”. Today, it is therefore said ‘On G-d’s mountain He will be seen’. Yitzchak also was drawn to this place. It is the "field" recorded in the Torah as his place of prayer. He was able to take the message of Hashem's unity with His creations from the mountain where he had his great moment, to daily spiritual self-discipline. Later Yaakov found himself in the very same place when he ran away from his parent's home to escape from his brother, Eisov. He had inadvertently passed it. When he went back, he slept and had his famous ladder dream. The ladder is what connects this world to its higher root. He saw the essential unity between both worlds there, and called the place a "House of G-d". A house is a place where you daily activities take place. He recognized it as a place in which you can echo Hashem's will in even the smallest and least significant choices that you make day by day.
When he went down to Egypt, he planted trees. His intent was that they could be used in the sanctuary that he knew prophetically that Hashem would give his descendants the privilege of building. When his children left Egypt, the time for the commandment, "Build me a sanctuary so that I live in you (note-in you, not 'in it"). The mishkan (sanctuary) built in the desert carried the message of the unity of the world with its Creator, and the way in which this is mirrored in every single person. The world is in fact compared to a giant human, and each person to a miniature world. The mishkan was an experiential map of how your world and G-d's world interconnect.
When the Jews entered Israel, the mishkan was moved several time. It was in Shiloh for 369 years. When I visited contemporary Shilo several years ago, I went to the newly excavated tel. There were stone chards on one side, and none on the other. Rabbi Heshie Reichman (whose wife, Chasida is my dear friend) told me that the reason is that when sin offerings were done, they were accompanied by libations (pouring out liquids), and that the vessels used were shattered. The ritual was done facing one direction; hence, the chards were likely the remains of one of the broken vessels. Later the chards were dated at M.I.T., and the dating placed them in the right era. I had picked up a few chards, and they now are on a shelf in my living room. When I see them, I identify deeply with someone who I will never know who, lived over 3000 years ago, and who wanted to bridge the gap between who he is and who he wanted to be. Finally, King David built the foundations of a permanent building that his son, Shlomo built over seven years. It was destroyed in 3338, when the layers separating our souls from our base desires and ego grew too thick for the light of the Bais HaMikdash to penetrate. The prophet's messages became more and full of rebuke and reproof in what turned out to be a futile attempt to penetrate our hearts. I write our hearts, because if things were different now, it would be rebuilt. Forty-eight prophets were recorded for all ages. There were, however, thousands and thousands of others, whose messages were relevant to their times. The seventy years of exile concluded with a partial return to Eretz Yisrael and building the Second Temple in 3408. The luminosity of the first one was never restored. Nonetheless, it had a spiritual force to it that is greater than anything you or I can imagine. What held it together was our unity as a people. When we lost that, the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed. The Tanaim and Amoraim (teachers in the Mishneh and Gemarrah) preserved its design in Mishneh Middos, and the rituals of the korbanos in Kodshim. And we're left with our empty hearts, and our blocked yearnings for more.
Have a meaningful fast on Tisha B'Av (It comes out on July 31)