Monday, 11 August 2008

No Need to Mourn Any Longer - Tisha Be'Av is Over!

With a sigh of relief, no longer in the three weeks, and with the fast of the 9th of Av behind us, we can all breath in and out deeply as we realise it’s simply all been worth it! In fact, having made it through 25 hours without food and water may well make us think we’ve done our share in mourning for the Temple. With this now behind us, we can simply get back into general worldly events, take it easy, eat our meat and drink our wine, play our music, and simply enjoy life!

We’ve got a good 52 weeks ahead of us until we’ll have to do this all again, so let’s take a break and as they say – let them good times roll!

It may seem like that for many of us, but is this the real truth? Is that what Tisha BeAv was/is all about?! Yet we must ask ourselves, if indeed we have done everything as we should have – why is it then that Moshiach has still not revealed himself?! Where *is* the Temple?! Did we take our fasting seriously enough to make an impact upon ourselves and the world at large? We sat and cried. We went without food and water for the day. For some who took things more seriously, we did not wear newly laundered garments through the entire 9 days – in fact 9 and a half to be exact! In order to really feel and experience the moments of pain without a Temple, many of us did not even bathe or shower during these 9 days! Those taking things seriously also abstained from wine and meat (except for Shabbat) during these 9 days. Some may even have accepted this custom for the entire 3 weeks of mourning. But we turn around, believing we have achieved everything necessary – and simply slip into the fast lane of life once again, perhaps wondering what in fact it was all about in the first place!

As the Torah says, one who lives in a generation in which the Temple was not built – it was as if *he* destroyed it! The Temple in ruins is not a sign of something that happened 2000 years ago. It is something that is happening today. Each day that goes by, we are to imagine an army of Roman villains, murderers and thugs surrounding the Temple, gleefully bearing their swords at every Jew around them as they swipe away at whoever treads in their paths. In addition to this they carry torches of fire which they spread around them simply destroying whatever they find in their path that has any resemblance to holiness at all. This is not figurative… it is real!

To any thinking person who has imagined just how large the Temple really was, it is totally inconceivable to imagine how it was that a Roman army – no matter how strong, could have burned down a Temple of the proportions that it was. There were no airplanes fuelled with gallons of ignitable liquid ready to explode upon impact! There were no wicked pilots flying two of them into the Temple, waiting for the explosions to eventually cause the entire building to collapse. What could the Romans have possibly had to cause such destruction to such a building of such huge physical proportions?! What could they have done?! Lit torches and thrown them about? Would that have sufficed to destroy the hard stones that made up the building?!

One can barely imagine the horrific moment in Jerusalem 2000 years ago as this entire area was consumed with perhaps the hugest fire in history. Imagine the smoke alone! Where did it come from? Was it all man-made?

The Torah shares with us the real story. While we may think the fires that burned were all man-made, the truth is that there was an angel above – Gavriel – the angel of fire, who had been so commanded to “take care” of the Temple below. He held in his hand balls of fire ready to throw from the heavens. It was these balls of fire that would destroy the Temple. Yet, even Gavriel – the angel of fire – was reluctant to throw the fire and destroy G-d’s very own Temple! He held the fire in his hands for 6 years as he cooled it’s flames, hoping that G-d would reconsider and not have to bring destruction. Eventually another angel stepped in complaining to G-d, - “G-d, how can you allow that people should think that they were responsible for such destruction…?” Immediately, G-d Himself sent a fire of infinite proportions down from the heavens – and consumed His very own Temple

The Temple was not destroyed by man. Not even the most powerful Roman has the power to destroy such a physical edifice! It was G-d Himself. The powerful fire was G-d-made – and from G-d, fires of infinite proportions are certainly not impossible! And so, the Temple was taken from us. Yet, in truth, G-d did tell us one thing. It was only a physical building that had been destroyed. While hundreds of years before that, the building had embedded within it a soul… prayer, sincerity and kindness – hundreds of years later, all these soul-qualities had been removed, by the Jewish people themselves. And so, all that was left to destroy, was a skeleton. A physical skeleton lacking anything of concrete value to it. Perhaps then, even a Roman could destroy this! All in all, everybody had a say in the matter. The Romans credited themselves with the destruction – not realising they could never do it without G-d’s will, and G-d Himself took full responsibility for the action at hand… while the Jewish people themselves were able to take responsibility for having removed the essence of the Temple itself. Each had the ability to claim a share in the monstrous fire that totally consumed our holy Temple – the Beit HaMikdash.

Is it all over now that we can pray at the Kotel – the only surviving (part) wall of the Temple?! Is our fasting on the 9th of Av sufficient? Hardly!

In fact, not only does the Halacha discuss various external signs of mourning necessary to remember the destruction – by for example leaving an area of one’s home not painted, or by tearing one’s shirt when one approaches the Kotel if one has not seen it for 30 days… all laws brought in the Shulchan Aruch near the end of the first section – Orach Chaim. But more than this, strangely enough, the entire corpus of law as brought in the Shulchan Aruch actually begins with… mourning for the Temple!

How odd it is that most Jews who begin to get heavily involved in the intricacies of Jewish law simply skip through the first sections of the Shulchan Aruch – moving to more “interesting laws” – Shabbat, Kashrut, Niddah – things that can be heavily debated – that can truly test one’s intellectual capacity! Sure, we need to actually fulfil these Halachot, but the debates surrounding the many arguments can make for an exciting day in Kollel! Why bother with the laws of waking up in the morning… saying Modeh Ani… or washing one’s hands? Laws that of course – “everyone” knows already?!

Imagine for just a moment the scene: 120 years have gone by, and we are standing in the presence of The Legal Court Above. They ask us if we studied any Torah. We reply with a resounding YES! “Great,” they say, “If so, you surely began at the beginning?” We reply in the affirmative, after all, we really have studied how to wake up and most of us are certainly authorities! Then they ask us another question, “Did you also observe the laws you studied… or did you perhaps just enjoy the give-and-take of the Halachic argument?!” Once again, taking our Torah seriously, we respond that we studied in order to do. And so… the Legal Court Above begins as it opens the authoritative code of Jewish law – the Shulchan Aruch. The book is opened in front of them and they begin to read…

“A person should strengthen himself like a lion to stand in the morning to serve his Creator, that he should awaken the dawn…”

The Halacha continues by telling us to realise that we are in the presence of G-d all day long and that we need to be aware of this at all times. Most of us manage to get to grips with being (semi) conscious of a Creator during the day. And for some, waking up to awaken the dawn can be a regular event (although of course, we could ask ourselves if we really take this seriously!)

Then comes the second law of the entire code of Jewish Law – a four volume work encompassing every law from waking up in the morning, to observing the Sabbath day, to keeping the laws of Kashrut, the laws of forbidden interest, how to slaughter an animal, to deal honestly in business, how to get married… and a variety of other daily life topics – enough to keep us busy for at least one life time:

“One who gets up early in the morning to supplicate before his Creator should intend for those hours when the “guards” change. These are at the third point during the night, and at the end of the second third of the night, and at the third end of the night – that the prayer than one prays at those hours regarding the destruction of the Temple and upon the exile are favourable!”

And law three continues: “It is fitting for every G-d fearing person to be distressed (saddened) regarding the destruction of the Temple!”

And law four: “A little supplication with intention is better than a lot without intention!”

Imagine now for just a moment, standing in front of The Legal Court Above as they begin reciting the very first laws of the Shulchan Aruch! Here we were so involved with Kashrut, Shabbat, Niddah etc… and yet, we begin to ask ourselves, did we actually care if the Temple was destroyed?! Indeed, every 9th day of Av each year we fasted, but was that the sole amount of effort we put in to appreciating what the Temple was… weeping for it?!

Perhaps the message of Tisha BeAv is one which needs to be brought into the rest of the year. It is a message which cries out from the day itself and echoes through the world, each and every day. In fact it resonates at certain times of the evening even more. The voice of the Shechina (Indwelling Divine Presence) cries out – and calls out to each of us – “Be aware, a generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if that generation actually destroyed the Temple!” But there is a cure. There is a way to truly feel the pain of the Shechina. A way to connect with her – every single day (or rather night!)

Perhaps it is finally time to connect – even once in our lifetimes. Perhaps once a year, once a month, or even once a week. In fact, as the Shulchan Aruch points out, it is at those times of the night that the Shechina cries – that she too listens to our cries – as the prophet Jeremiah points out “Arise, call out at night…”

This time – the sweetest hour, is a time for us to get in touch with G-d. A time when the world is silent, but the Shechina is heard crying. We too are silent… but when we awaken at this time, we too are filled with tears as we connect and feel the pain of the Shechina.

What must we do and how do we connect with the Shechina? When is this time and how can we go about connecting with her – now?! What is the time known as?!

It is the sweetest hour. A time of Divine favour. It is a time when a thread of mercy is spread over all who awaken to cry for the Temple – for the Shechina in exile – for every Jew who feels lost in this world, chasing after worldly passions which the soul loathes.

Join us for our next article which will speak of this beautiful moment – a moment when Jew and Shechina kiss. A time when the soul is finally able to break from her body to reunite with her lover. It is the sweetest hour

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