If you’re looking for the mothership of Jewish guilt, it can be found in our responsibility to rebuild the Third Temple, the beit hamikdash. Our Sages say that if we don’t witness its rebuilding, it’s as if we witness its destruction.
The details of what happened almost 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (this Shabbat, although the mourning customs associated with the day are observed this year on the following Sunday) are gruesome and painful. And the tragedy continues, certainly in the sense that the Jewish nation remains vulnerable, a by-product of being scattered and without true sovereignty.
The key to rebuilding is straightforward enough: Because the Temple’s destruction was caused by sinat chinam, unwarranted hatred among Jews, its rebuilding is effected through ahavat chinam, our unwarranted love for each other. Somehow, some way, we need to think of every Jew like family — in a good way. Our “random acts of kindness,” along with our learning about the Temple so we realize what we’re missing, have the power to transform Tisha B’Av, our emblem of darkness, into the ultimate light.
The problem is that it’s been almost 2,000 years and a lot of people have stopped feeling guilty that it hasn’t been done.
Before I became observant, I thought the Temple was a synagogue on steroids. I figured it was probably a lovely edifice, but I didn’t understand the tears over not having it. Now, when I clarify that the Temple was actually a place where G-d’s presence is openly manifest, I can almost hear people thinking, “Maybe, but 2,000 years is a long time ago.” Which means, if they’ve heard of “the Three Weeks,” the simple yet eerie name for the weeks leading up to the Temple’s destruction, they probably don’t think much about them.
But once you’re attuned to the time period between the minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and the major fast day of Tisha B’Av, the discomfort of the Three Weeks is very real; it’s a time when the Jewish nation, individually and collectively, is both vulnerable and mournful. Just the other day while I was out walking, I saw the flashing lights of a police car in the distance. The car appeared to be right in front of Friendship Circle’s office, where our son Mordy and our daughter-in-law Rivkee work. Our daughter Leah, who’s visiting from Dallas, was at the office, too. I quickly calculated the disaster possibilities. “Nah, it can’t be,” I reassured myself. (Because it’s also very Jewish to have bitachon, to trust that G-d will provide us with material well-being.) But, I am very mindful that if something unthinkable were to happen, G-d forbid, this could be a likely time. (It turns out a bus plowed into a car, which then hit another car. Seven people were injured; fortunately, none seriously. Mind you, this is not the Autobahn; this is a neighborhood street where you can walk in front of a car and it’ll stop for you.)
While there’s a part of me that wants to get the whole Three Weeks/Tisha B’Av uneasiness over with, I need to recalibrate. The uneasiness should motivate me to realize what is lacking in a world without a Temple — and to do something more about it. Especially because Tisha B’Av time is arguably the most auspicious period for the Temple’s rebuilding to start. Just as the Three Weeks are real, and Tisha B’Av is real, the Third Temple is just as real. And the Third Temple is the sine qua non of the Messianic era, the time when all physicality will reveal its G-dly source. Forever. (Our minds lack the ability to imagine what this era will be like; for now, just imagine being able to say, “It’s all good” and really mean it.)
Feeling guilty is not enough. I need to do more to make the Temple a reality — and that includes recruiting anyone and everyone who wants to be part of the rebuilding campaign. (No good deed is too small, and dedication opportunities are still available.) As for the moments when I question why I should merit to witness this glorious moment? I have no idea. I just try to stay focused on this: The fact that the Temple hasn’t been rebuilt in 2,000 years tells us that it’s more likely to be rebuilt in our lifetimes, not less. Because G-d promised us that it’s going to happen — and today is infinitely a better day for it than tomorrow.
Lieba Rudolph is a writer living in Squirrel Hill. Her blog is called Pondering Jew.