Building Your Own Bais HaMikdash (Temple) (This article was published in Hamodia)
Mourning what you never had is both painful and confusing. The three weeks, the nine days, and finally Tisha B’Av, require an emotional stretch that at times seems beyond the capacity of those of us born close to 2000 years after the destruction. I have vivid memories of sitting at the feet of my counselor at camp, listening to the kinos being read and wanting desperately to be touched. At the time, I attributed the coldness that I could not hide even from my own immaturity to the foreign vocabulary. The poetry of the kinos was far beyond my depth of sensitivity or my very limited Hebrew.
As I grew more mature, I knew that the lack was within me. My attempts to envision the horror of the desolation that replaced the Bais HaMikdash was hampered by one significant factor. My picture of the Bais HaMikdash was flat, lifeless, and disconnected with my sense of reality. I could describe it, but all of the dimensions with which I was familiar were those of the surface. I could not fathom that which was within, its source of life and significance. I didn’t know what to do with Tisha B’Av. The long languid afternoon would pass. Holocaust books with their gruesome content and terrifying photos would capture my inner horizon, yet the connection between our agony and its root escaped me. I didn’t know what it was that I had never had.
The Bais HaMikdash was never an edifice purely of stone and wood. At the time of its destruction Titus misunderstood this actuality. He saw the Bais HaMikdash as a building like any other, with the addition of its having profound religious significance to the Jews. He both believed and disbelieved in Hashem; he gave Him sufficient credence to endeavor to compete with Him, and disbelieved enough to think that competition was rational. “Foolish mortal! You have ground flour that was already ground. You have burned a building that was already burned”
It is easier to define what Bais HaMikdash never was, than it is to grasp the scope of what it was. Its essence is an inherent part of the creation. It is one of the five objects that our sages define as Hashem’s “kinyon” – something truly possessed by Him, and never by any other person or force. It was predestined to be a place of meeting between both worlds. We are so tied down to the world that we experience through the five senses. Yet we experience the other world as well. It comes to us through our longing and our yearning. We express its presence in our hearts through our search for meaning. When the world was less clouded by history and failure, its essence was more accessible. Let us examine the Bais HaMikdash through the eyes of Kayin and Hevel.
Kayin and Hevel understood its essence. In fact, they understood it far better than we do. It was, in fact, the source of their controversy. We know that their clash ended with bloodshed. We know that the underlying issue was envy. We do not have textual information concerning the actual issue that sparked their quarrel. The Gemarra brings a number of possibilities. One possibility is that they had divided the world by each ones perception of what life is for. Kayin saw life as a struggle for material dominance. He therefore claimed the earth as his own. Hevel saw life as an exercise in transcendence of the limitations of the physical; he therefore claimed the heavens as exclusively his. Kayin demanded that Hevel refrain from stepping on “his” earth. Hevel demanded that Kayin stop breathing “his” air. While the possibility of a quarrel of this nature actually taking place will seem real to the mother of teenagers, its meaning is far deeper than that of the kind of pettiness that is often conjured up in ones mind when learning this aggada. What was the significance of their altercation; how does it change our picture of reality.
Like Kayin and Hevel, the materialistic and the spiritual aspects of our being engage in unending irrational quarreling. The body is drawn to acquisition and passivity. The spirit is drawn to growth and contribution. There are few areas in which both share joy. As we all know, when the borders are spelled out cleanly, there is no reason for a disagreement to arise.
For instance, if two neighbors agree to enclose an area and erect a fence, there is no reason to continually discuss whose side is bigger etc. When the borders are less defined, quarreling becomes almost inevitable. If the body was to content itself with the exclusively materialistic side of reality, then it would have no “quarrel” with the soul. However the body also wants the elusive pleasure of meaning. Thus, for instance, our status symbols take on psychological significance as well providing us with material pleasure. We at times even confuse the psychological pleasure that acquisition gives us with genuine self esteem.
Like Kayin, we want to both be masters of the earth, but breathe the in “spirit” of meaning. Like Hevel, at times we want the authentic joy of dveikus, but we must live with the realities of this world, and must keep our feet on the floor. In the case of Kayin and Hevel, the Gemarra teaches us that the actual catalyst for the confrontation was the issue of ownership of the Bais HaMikdash, or alternatively, who shall marry the “extra” female who was born with them. Both marriage and the Bais HaMikdash share a common feature. Both have physical components that reflect a far deeper and transcend spiritual bond. The Bais HaMikdash was the bridge between this world and the world above it. Its physical loss reflects a loss of dveikus, a loss of meaning.
It is no “chiddush” to note that the world is not perfect. We tend to focus on the tangible manifestations of its imperfection. We can’t help but be aware of the illnesses, and tragedies of every possible dimension that surround us. However, this is the symptom of a genus of imperfection of more profound proportions. The cause of all material and physical torment is our inability to express our higher and deeper selves without there being a catalyst to cause it to come forward. The truth is, however, the world can never be a place of joy if it is approached on exclusively materialistic terms. All physical gratification ends. The feeling of emptiness that we encounter when we “have everything” is so difficult to live with that we often look for still “more” to assuage the restlessness that comes the fleeting moments when we catch a glimpse into the abyss.
What we are really lacking is the delight that can come from enjoying bonding with Hashem, with feeling the connection of mind, heart, and deed with the world of netzach, the world of eternity.
If we “settle”, if we doom ourselves to accepting that which is hollow as though it has content, then there is no place for mourning the Bais HaMikdash. The Bais HaMikdash was the place of unification of both worlds. It was the one place in which the illumination of eternity eclipsed the vacuous concealment of material desire, while giving the material world a voice that was resounding and joyous.
Recognition of the choking constriction that living with our spirits cast in exile brings to us has another effect. It makes us far more compassionate towards each other. You and I live in our personal exiles, we at times are barely on speaking terms with the person within us that we could be. Every Jew that we encounter, wants what we want, yearns for what we yearn, is blocked by that which blocks us. Their blockages may at times be so dense that they have lost all hope. We come upon their gollus in many disguises; lack of self-esteem, lack of honesty, escapism and rebellion against the spark of good within them that reminds them of who they could be.
At times, we categorize them and thereby create an igloo of ice in which we can take shelter. They are safely redefined as “them”, and we are us. The more we take ourselves out of the exile of superficiality that we use as our shelter, the less separateness we will feel from our fellow Jew.
What separates us is not our souls, it is our bodies and the configurations of identity that are created by external factors. Age, ethnic background, education, financial status can only define the external side of identity. Internally, we are all groping for meaning and connection. We are obligated by the Torah not only to be aware of this connection that unites us, but to act on it. The way that this takes place is through the mitzva of loving your neighbor as you do yourself. Love is such an elusive feeling! We know that deep empathy and devotion is the only “address” that awareness of our oneness can take us, but without the structure of halacha, we would have no channel for its expression.
What are the dinim of Ahavas Reyim? We must be as aware of them and as careful in their performance as any dinim in Shulchan Aruch. In the yad the Rambam enumerates three laws.
1-We are obligated to speak well of our fellow Jew. Obviously we must use our common sense and not create situations in which loshon hara will follow our favorable comments. This can be achieved by either not speaking about them by name (e.g. when I used to ride the bus from Maalot Dafna to Bayit Vegan to
work there was a bus driver who assisted a handicapped young man
on an off the bus daily. I was always moved by the driver’s
gentility and sensitivity, which was all the more striking in view
of his being a rather “macho” type, would have otherwise
filed him away in the ever growing file of “them”. I do not know his name, and feel no need to know it, yet repeating his deed recreates a certain spiritual bonding) or using a great deal of discretion. The effect of speaking well is that we suddenly feel them to be on “our team” and genuine empathy is developed.
2-We are obligated to be concerned for the material needs of our fellow Jew as we are for our own needs. Tzeddaka is a separate mitzva, what is implied here is not only contributing, but caring. This includes wanting to see others succeed, without jealousy and pettiness. It means rejoicing in the good fortune of others. It means preventing them from sustaining loss when possible. It also means never letting financial differences act as a wedge between Jews. One of the most remarkable sights that I have ever seen is the homes of the gedolei horaah in Eretz Yisroel. In the secular world, people of their stature would be living in homes straight out of house beautiful. They neither desire the lifestyle of affluence, nor do they have the trappings of success to be recognized as the living sefer Torahs that they are.
3-We are obligated to validate and acknowledge others (we never use the word kovod, but use validation and acknowledgment, which are, of course, the same thing, are words with which many of us feel more comfortable). We not only must rise above petty slights, we must seek opportunities to rebuild each other. We can restore the sense of significance and inner greatness to people who have ceased to see it in themselves. When we reach out to each other and re-discover thereby not only the hidden goodness in them, but the hidden goodness in ourselves, the effect is far more major than we would anticipate. The Shechina can rest only on a vessel that is whole. By restoring wholeness to the Jewish people, we restore the Shechina to the world.
The rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdosh seems so distant! The despair that its destruction has left in its wake encompasses everything that we see. It is there in the dazzle of escapism and it is there in the kind of banal tragedy that we hear on the news. If we would reach out to each other and rebuild each other, we would simultaneously rebuild ourselves and rebuild the world. We must relearn to hope. We must stop “settling” and open ourselves like the eye of a needle, so that Hashem will open Himself to us like a great hall. If we allow ourselves to fall back into complacency, we are not only not part of the solution, but we are the essence of the problem.