Finding the Path Within Each of Us to the Rebuilding of the Temple This Tish’ah B’Av

L’ilui nishmos Dr. Reuven Rosenkranz a”h and Aliza Talia Sarah bas Dina Rachel a”h

We are a few days away from the climactic day of the summer, Tish’ah B’Av, and I can’t help but feel a mix of emotions as this significant fast day approaches. Most dread this fast, the heat, and the long summer day. In past years, I have always looked forward to it. Strange, perhaps, but being that my Hebrew birthday falls out the day before The Nine Days, and my English birthday usually within a few days of the Ninth of Av, intuitively I have always felt this made sense: Of course my birthday falls out this week; in the future, this will be the greatest holiday of all!

This year feels different.

The last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions: My eldest’s bas mitzvah in Adar, celebrating Yom Yerushalayim with my daughter in Jerusalem, Nashville for CMA Fest, flying across country to drive my daughter up to sleepaway camp, attending a wedding for the first time as friend of the mother of the bride (where did the time go?)… all highs – juxtaposed with far too many tragedies, locally and in the greater Jewish community: a young mother’s premature death in a car accident on the way home from a camp reunion, three infant deaths of healthy babies within six months in the greater Los Angeles community, two healthy middle-aged women in Monsey and Brooklyn passing with no warning or prior health issues this past winter, a beloved young mother and wife in the community succumbing in her battle with cancer after an intense and brief nine-month battle, my dear cousin’s unexpected heart attack at age 47 on a summer Friday afternoon, a beacon of the LA community succumbing to cancer after only six weeks, the deaths of Rabbi Wallerstein z”l and Rav Kanievsky zt”l.

I flew to New York at the end of June to make the joyous trek up to the Poconos and visit friends and family, and as I was saying goodbye to my Oma on the West Side on Sunday afternoon, ready to head to New Jersey to celebrate my friend’s daughter’s wedding, I got the call about my cousin’s sudden death and headed to a cemetery in Queens instead. I literally went from a k’vurah to a wedding. I was shaking to the core for hours. It all felt (and still feels) like too much. This is too heavy. Too many funerals for friends and family who have not reached their old age.

This year, Tish’ah B’Av is not a commemoration of some faraway, long-ago tragedy our nation experienced thousands of years ago when each Temple was destroyed. This year, the suffering, the loss, and the grief, are all but too palpable, tangible; it is almost inescapable. It knows no boundaries: The loss crosses community lines, cities, and does not differentiate between young and old.

At one of the recent shiv’ahs that I attended, as I was reciting the brachah of “HaMakom Y’nacheim,” I finally understood why we have the custom to recite these specific words to mourners (something that in in the past has felt impersonal and not relatable). “HaMakom y’nacheim es’chem b’soch she’ar aveilei Tzion viYerushalayim, translated as “May Hashem console and comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” There are some losses that are so deep and all encompassing, only Hashem, the Master Healer, can heal.

How appropriate that the month in which Tish’ah B’Av falls is called Av, Hebrew for father. Even during the time of our communal destruction, Hashem reminds us of His everlasting and unfaltering love for us. He is our comfort even when our Temple is destroyed. He is our constant.

When we hear about a loss, we all instinctively say, “Baruch Dayan HaEmes” –“Blessed is the Judge of the Ultimate Truth.” I realize as I write these words, I imagine these are the very same words our people recited as the Batei Mikdash burned to the ground. How many times have I verbally recited these words and internally my inner voice screams out, “No, I am not m’kabeil this news; this is too tragic!”

We are at a time in Jewish history when our people are sadly so divided and polarized, with so much differentiation and judgment across community lines. With the focus sadly misdirected to what makes us different: the color of our kippot, the style of our wigs, the color shirts we do and don’t wear, the length of our sleeves and skirts, the halachic opinions we hold by, etc. instead of what unites us: our love of G-d, Torah, and Yiddishkeit, our love of our fellow man, our desire for peace in our homes, communities, countries and the world, and our unwavering belief in G-d. When this happens, Tish’ah B’Av, communal and personal loss and grief, unites us.

At each of the funerals I have attended in the last few months, the shuls and chapels were overflowing – standing room only. I looked around the room at AH’s funeral and couldn’t help but notice the diversity of the crowd: young and old, yeshivish to Modern Orthodox; the entire community showed up to mourn the loss in our community.  If we won’t unite in our community around joy and simchah, G-d will unite us through personal tragedy, loss, and grief.

At each of these funerals, there was another even more powerful common theme: unwavering belief in G-d across the board, that for reasons we cannot comprehend, G-d had decided it was the right time for these neshamos to be called back home. A chilling reminder that although our neshamos live on eternally, the world we live in is very temporary.

Tish’ah B’Av this year is for me a series of losses, personal losses, rippling through our greater community. How can we relate to the Churban of thousands of years ago, which this fast day commemorates? I had the privilege to hear a close friend’s son lein his bo ba’yom haftarah during The Three Weeks. A former shul member was visiting from out of town, and he shared a beautiful anecdote that helped me better connect to the Churban itself: Every Sukkos when he takes down his family sukkah, his father reminds him, “Pay close attention to how you take apart the sukkah. Remember that that which is taken apart will be rebuilt. We will need to remember how to build it, which pieces connect here and there, and in what order and placement.” How comforting that that which is taken apart will rise again. If we can remember why it was destroyed, we can rebuild it.

If the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, then the only tool that we can use to rebuild it is the reverse of how it came down: ahavas chinam, loving others freely without judgment. The prophets constantly remind us: Hashem is not looking for our sacrificial offerings. The N’tziv, in his intro to Sefer B’reishis, reminds us that there were tzadikim and chasidim during the period of Bayis Sheini. But the Temple was destroyed anyway, because they lacked yashrus, that which our Avos lived by example. “During the Second Temple, there were tzaddikim and chasidim, as well as those who toiled in the words of Torah; however, they were not yesharim in their dealings with others. Due to the baseless hatred in their hearts towards each other, they suspected those who disagreed with them on religious matters… G-d is yashar and G-d could not tolerate tzadikim like these.” In contrast, Yashrus was the praise of the Avos, that is, they conducted themselves towards others, even towards idol worshippers, with love (think of Avraham pleading with G-d not to destroy the evil people of S’dom).

When each Temple was destroyed, there was a significant change in the way Judaism was practiced: We no longer had a central place of worship. Gone were the korbanos, the aliyos l’regel, the kohanim, the Kohen Gadol and the Kodesh HaKodashim. With the destruction of the Temple, we lost the very structure, physical and metaphorical, that contained our religious practices and G-d’s presence.  In Parshas Sh’mos, G-d instructs us: V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’socham – And make for me a Temple and I will dwell within it.”  Rabbi Yechiyah Eltshari, the Tziedah LaDerech, explains that “G-d, the Shechinah, does not reside in the Sanctuary on account of the Sanctuary, but does so only on account of the people Israel, for they constitute the Temple of G-d.” Once the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, there was no physical structure for the Shechinah to reside. Instead, it resides within each of us. Metaphorically, we are the Temple, while literally, we, through our capacity for ahavas Yisrael, hold the keys to its rebuilding.

Each of the individuals whom we lost over the last few months leaves behind both a gaping hole in our hearts and a tremendous legacy. They are each genuinely shining examples and embodiments of what it means to be yashar and live every day with true ahavas Yisrael. If we can show up each day, living by their examples, Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash will surely be here speedily and in our days.

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