parasha

Tisha B’Av 5777

Necessary Conditions for the Temple to Exist
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

This Tuesday, Tisha B’Av, is the saddest day in the Jewish year.  Ever since the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish nation huddles together on this day, remembering the past and hoping for a good future.  On this day, the entire nation expresses the deep national mourning in sevmarital relations.  All these are expressions of both national and personal mourning through which we enter the atmosphere of sadness and mourning appropriate for this day.  All these prohibitions begin the evening before (Monday evening) until the next evening.

The Temple whose destruction we mark on Tisha B’Av was built and destroyed twice.  The first time the Temple was built was in the 9th century BCE by King Solomon, and it was destroyed in the 5th century BCE.  The Second Temple, that lacked a few of the main components of the First Temple, such as the Ark of the Covenant that sat in the Holy of Holies, was built by Jews who came from Babylon seventy years after the destruction of the First Temple, and it was destroyed in the year 70 BCE.Most of the information we have about the Temple relates to the Second Temple for the simple reason that it was a later period so more of the descriptions were preserved.  The description of the First Temple was preserved mainly in the Bible, in the writings of the prophets.  There we see one of the most heated arguments of that period, an argument that preceded the destruction of the Temple and which centered on the question: Is it possible that the Temple, the House of God on earth, could be destroyed?We know the historic answer to this question.  The Temple was indeed destroyed.  But the roots of this heated argument, its ideological basis, are relevant even thousands of years after this argument has been settled. In the period preceding the destruction, the bible describes the nation as being guilty of the three most serious sins in Judaism: murder, idolatry, and sexual misconduct.  In one of the Prophet Jeremiah’s admonitions of the nation, he says the following:So said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel…Do not rely on false words, saying: The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are they…if you perform judgment between one man and his fellowman…you do not oppress a stranger, an orphan, or a widow, and you do not shed innocent blood in this place, and you do not follow other gods for your detriment,I will allow you to dwell in this place…
Will you steal, murder, commit adultery…And will you come and stand before Me in this house…and say, "We are saved," in order to commit all these abominations?Has this house upon which My name is called, become a cave of profligate men in your eyes?
(Jeremiah 7, 3-11)
Reading these words, we understand that the outlook that was commonplace in those days was that the Temple, God’s House on earth, was indestructible.  It was believed that the commonplace norms of society of that time – stealing, murder, idolatry, murder, adultery –  would not bring about any harm to the Temple.
This belief was also held by the idol-worshipping nations.  The gods, they claimed, are not interested in values of morality or justice.  The many mythologies do not deal with values, but with the interests and needs of the gods.  Why would God destroy His house as a result of the nation’s rampant immorality?  One of the widespread laws in the ancient world related to the concept of asylum.  Based on this, the Temple was a shelter, a place of asylum, for criminals. A person who murdered his friend could escape to the Temple and go unpunished.  The conception from which this law stemmed was that the Temple was a place where the human laws of justice are not relevant.  The House of God was above all manmade values.
However, Judaism fought this conception.  We read in the book of Shmot (21, 14) “But if a man plots deliberately against his friend to slay him with cunning, [even] from My altar you shall take him to die.”  Escaping to the Temple and holding on to the altar do not excuse a person from values of morality and justice.  On the contrary, the existence of the Temple is dependent on social norms of morality and justice.  When these norms were distorted, the prophet admonished the nation and cried, “Has this house upon which My name is called, become a cave of profligate men in your eyes?”
If the existence of the Temple is contingent on the values of morality and justice, a time could come at which the Temple cannot exist.  And this is exactly what happened, unfortunately, on this day of national mourning – Tisha B’Av.  This is, therefore, our opportunity to examine whether we are upholding those values which make it possible for the Temple to exist.  The mourning is meant to lead us to introspection, to the repair of social norms, to an internalization of moral values.  Only such a process can make us merit the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
 

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