Every thinking and sensitive Jew will recognize the need to regret the lack of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, since the practices associated with the period up to and during Tisha b’Av are so much about mourning, it makes me wonder whether we should feel the loss so palpably that we should actually cry. Is this possible? Is this what we should be aiming for?
Consider the following scenario:
“Why are all these people sitting on the ground and crying?” This was a natural question for six-year old Chaim to ask his father on his first visit to the Western Wall, the Kotel, on Tisha b’Av.
“Well, my son, right next to the place we are standing there once stood the holiest building in the world, the Beit Hamikdash. This is where Jews served G‑d with sacrifices throughout the year, and here all Jews came at least three times a year for the festivals. It was the most magnificent building ever seen. It stood on the mountain where our forefather Abraham brought his son Isaac and was prepared to offer him as a sacrifice to G‑d. Surrounding this Har Habayit (Temple Mount) were four walls. But because of our sins the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on this day almost 2000 years ago, and all that is left of the great walls around the mountain upon which the glorious Temple stood is this Kotel. Isn’t that enough of a reason for Jews to cry?”
With the eternal optimism that is such a beautifully innocent part of childhood, Chaim looked up at his father, whose eyes were filled with tears, and said:
“But Aba, don’t we believe that Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash and the walls around it will someday be rebuilt? Look at it this way – one wall is already up, so we only need to put up three more!”
The concept of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash is not limited to the arrival of Mashiach. That the Divine Redeemer will merely complete the job that we have started is evident from our daily prayer for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The prayer that begins with the plea for G‑d to “return His Divine Presence to Jerusalem and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an eternal structure” concludes with the words praising G‑d as the “One Who is building Jerusalem”. The use of the present tense indicates that this construction is taking place right now, and leads the great biblical commentator Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer) to present an interesting approach to understanding the meaning of this title:
“The Third Beit Hamikdash, which represents Jerusalem’s ultimate building, will not be the product of human effort. The Midrash informs us that it will come down from Heaven as a finished product. This indicates that its construction is going on all the time. But what are the materials with which G‑d is building this sacred edifice? The answer is, our tears! The tears which are shed by Jews on Tisha b’Av and throughout the year are supernaturally transformed into the brick and mortar used by the Divine Builder Who now is building Jerusalem.”
Each generation in which the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt, say the Talmudic Sages (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a), is considered as if it was guilty of its destruction. On the surface this seems like a pretty heavy indictment of so many generations of saintly Jews during the past two millennia who did not merit to see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt. But if we consider the aforementioned concept of building with tears, the indictment is limited only to those who take the absence of the Beit Hamikdash with complacency.
This is the issue which has faced every generation since the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash on Tisha B’Av so long ago, and which faces our own generation. Do we realize how much is missing in our personal and national self-fulfillment because we lack this spiritual generator? And is this sense of unfulfilled spiritual potential profound enough to move us to tears?
Both Chaim and his father were right. We only have three more walls to build. But it is the tears in the eyes of his father and all the other Jews at the Kotel and throughout the world, throughout the years, which are building those walls today!