Tisha B’Av: The Holocaust That Is Overshadowed by the Destruction of the Temple

The revolution against the Romans and siege on Jerusalem which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple, produced one of the worst holocausts in Jewish history. According to the testimony of Yosef Ben Matitiyahu (Yosefus Plabius), about one million Jews were killed in Jerusalem, and 100,000 prisoners were taken captive to Rome.

Despite this chilling fact, it is only a footnote in the history of this era. While every child knows that on Tish A B’Av the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, many Jews are less aware of the physical holocaust which accompanied it.

And how puzzling are the words of our sages, who tell us that that G-d had mercy upon the Jewish People, pouring out his fury on wood and stones (the Temple) instead of on the Jews themselves who had sinned. If this is so, the question is two-fold : 1. One million Jews killed shows us that “G-d poured his fury on wood and stones”? 2. Why has the death of so many Jews become marginal in our Tisha B’Av mourning? Is human life less important than the wood and stones of the Temple?

To answer these questions, we must free ourselves from our western mindset. For according to the Jewish idea, physical existence is NOT the ultimate value, but rather there is a purpose to the life of a Jew, and without this purpose, the reason for his existence becomes less significant.

This is the reason that the massive slaughter of Jews that took place during the siege is dwarfed in importance when compared to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish People from their land. Because when the People of Israel are not in the land of the living, Eretz Yisrael, and when their Temple is destroyed, the Jew can no longer properly fulfill his destiny in the world. His life, so to speak, loses its meaning.

This explains the startling stories of many Jews who lost their faculties upon seeing the Temple burning in flames, and simply cast themselves into the fire, burning themselves alive! They could not grasp a reality of “Am Yisrael” without the Holy Temple.

After 2,000 years of exile, this idea seems a bit extreme. Is it really the end of the world when the Temple is burned down? Don’t we at least fulfill mitzvot in the exile? Can’t we fulfill our destiny as Jews without a Temple? The answer to this is clear: No. The entire reality of observing mitzvot in the exile is “B’diavad” – that is, it is undesired, but must be done because of lack of choice. For the Torah was given to the Holy People to be performed in the Holy Land, and in the exile we became a mere religion comprised of individuals. For this the sages tell us that the purpose of fulfilling mitzvot in the exile is only so that we won’t forget them when we return to the Land of Israel, where the fulfillment of mitzvot take on their full significance.

Now we can answer the two questions we posed: When Israel sinned,desecrating the Holy Temple and turning it into a “discotheque”, G-d wasreally supposed to destroy us all, G-d forbid. But since G-d loves us and ties His Name (His existence, so to speak) to the name of the Jewish People, He determined that we will never be totally wiped out. Therefore, he destroyed the wood and stones of the Temple instead of destroying those who desecrated it. But this does not negate the possibility that the Jewish People will be severely punished with the likes of holocausts and exiles (which is the harshest punishment of them all). Indeed, total annihilation will never be, and in the end there will be redemption, with the Jewish People returning to fulfill it’s destiny in a complete way in its land and Temple.

Now it can be understood how the massive killing of Jews in Jerusalem can be viewed as a marginal event in relation to the destruction itself. Because the moment the Jewish People are exiled from their land and there is no Temple – life itself becomes less significant. More than that, all the tragedies of the exile – the Inquisitions and Holocausts, are secondary to the exile and the destruction itself. In fact, the spiritual vacuum of the Temple is the reason for the physical tragedies that befall us, for one is dependent upon the other!

Therefore, all efforts for “Eretz Yisrael”, for the building of the Holy Temple and for the purifying of the Temple Mount which is the life-center for “Am Yisrael”, are not reserved just for “those interested in politics”. All those who fear G-d, love Israel and are pained by the exile of the Divine Presence must make these issues the center of their lives. For the fulfillment of the mitzvot are dependent on them. The return of the Jewish People to life is dependent on them!!

Tazria-Metzora: Faith, Faith, And There Is No Faith

The entire subject of the various skin disorders that are dealt with in Parshat “Tazria” and “Mazora” is perceived as one huge mystery by many. What is the possible importance of all this?

A story brought down in Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat “Tazria” teaches us a tremendous idea that lies behind this entire subject of skin disorders and blemishes dealt with in the parsha. The midrash tells us about a certain cohen in the Land of Israel who was greatly impoverished. Due to his economic stress, he decided to do what so many do today for the same reason – to go overseas. Since the occupation of the cohen included diagnosing skin blemishes (only the cohen can examine the disorder and determine if it is pure or not), he felt a responsibility towards his “clients”, and proceeded to teach his wife the tricks of the trade so she could cover for him while he was out of town. The cohen taught her the basic principle of skin disorders: “If you see that the water source of one of the person’s body hairs dried up, know that he has been stricken. Because for each and every strand of hair on the body, Hashem created for it its own life-source from which it nurtures. If the well dries up, the hair dries up.”

The midrash continues to tell us that when his wife heard this rule, she sharply criticized her husband the cohen and said, “And G-d created for each and every hair on the body its own individual life-source or well from which to drink from – you being a human being with lots and lots of hair, and your children depend on you for support, isn’t it all the more so that G-d will provide for you sustenance?” And the midrash concludes: “And thus she did not let him leave Israel!”

Though this cohen might have been dealing with skin disorders his entire life, he only understood the technical side of this mitzvah. What his valiant wife taught him was the idea or lesson that lies behind this matter, that despite all his knowledge of the details, he did not grasp. And what is the idea? That even in something that at first glance might seem trivial and mundane like skin blemishes, there is concealed the concept of G-d’s incredibly precise “Hashgacha” (Divine Providence) over every thing in this world. What may seem to us as some “coincidental” stain with hair, takes on an entirely different meaning when we understand that a “little” thing like that exists for a reason, and there is Someone up there running the show even when it comes to individual cuticles – for everything has a purpose. This woman came along and immediately corrected her husband by saying: You want to try to outsmart Hashem? Well, if Hashem decreed that you will suffer poverty, all attempts to evade G-d’s Will will be fruitless, and certainly if it includes leaving Israel which is against the “Halacha”.

This cohen is nothing more than an example of most religious Jews today. Without a doubt, he too awoke each morning and went to synagogue. He too said “I believe”, and set a fixed time each day to learn Torah. But in both instances when it comes to the moment of truth on both a personal and national level, all the “emunah” that is proclaimed remains just lip service when it has to be applied in real life situations. Even righteous Jews are not spared from this trap. The sages tell us in Trachtate Sota (48): “What cause the righteous to receive less of a portion in the Next World? Smallness (small “emunah” – Rashi) that was in them!”

He who gets up and says that parts of the Land of Israel which we are commanded to conquer must be handed over to the gentiles because of “Pekuach Nefesh”; that it is forbidden to perform certain acts of “Kiddush Hashem” because “what will the world say”; that the fulfillment of the Divine Commandment, “And you shall disinherit the inhabitants of the land” are not practical because America will stop supporting us – such people fall into the same category as the above cohen. For they suddenly “forgot” that the same Master of the World who commanded us to live in the Land of Israel and to conquer it, also sends us “parnassa” and “bitachon”.

What is missing today is that simple woman of simple faith to get up and shout: If God has Divine Providence over every single hair on the body and determines by Himself whether that hair will live or die, for sure he is watching over his Chosen People! And if G-d indeed watches over His people, could anything possibly go wrong if that people cling to His commandments, even those that seem “dangerous”?!

If one claims that fulfilling God’s Will is “dangerous” – it really does not matter if that person wears a yarmulke, a strimel, long coat or none of the above, for he is just like that above cohen — of little faith and with little to teach us.

Vayakhel-Pikudei: A Time to Build

Parshiyot Vayakhel and Pekudei are basically repetitions of the material which was previously covered in parshiyot Terumah and Tezaveh. This naturally gives rise to an often asked question: How can our Torah, which we know is never redundant, go ahead and “waste” so much space on all of these extra verses? Why not simply state, “and the bnei Yisrael did as Moses commanded them”, as is frequently done in the Torah?

It is also important to note that even in the description itself of the Tabernacle and its vessels, the Torah is uncharacteristically verbose. Furthermore, these portions are only an introduction to the book of Vayikra, which deals primarily with topics related to the tabernacle and offerings. And yet, despite it all, most of us feel completely detached
from these portions of the Torah. We can’t seem to relate to them, despite the fact that over one third of the mitzvot are connected to the subject of the Temple and sacrifices.

Lost Proportions
In light of these facts, it must be concluded that our sense of proportion regarding what Judaism considers truly important has been badly distorted. While this Torah sheet often expounds upon basic ideas and concepts which in this lost generation have become so foreign to us, what we see now is that even the mitzvot themselves have become foreign to us, and the Torah has been reduced to it’s bear minimum.

The reason that the Torah allocates such a hefty portion to the Temple and the sacrifices, is because these subjects are so central to the living of a true Jewish life. It is curious that when the Torah devotes a lot of space pertaining to the details of other mitzvot, no one sees this as strange. On the contrary, many feel that indeed, more space should be allotted to the explanations of various mitzvot. Why? Because people understand that without the mitzvot, there is no Torah. But this is precisely the problem. While everyone understands that there is no Judaism without mitzvot, many
do not grasp the fact that the Temple and sacrifices are also essential to Judaism, and without them, there really is no Judaism.

The Holy Temple In Our Days
Only now can we begin to address the issue of our obligation to rebuild the Temple and renew the sacrifices.

In general, this idea is met with immediate opposition. There are no shortage of excuses, each camp offering it’s own explanation why we can’t build the Temple today. Some say: “The Temple will fall from the sky, and it is none of our business”. Others claim: “The Temple is a project for the Messiah”. And then there is this gem: “We are on too low a level to deal with such a lofty topic”. And there are more.

A Mitzva is a Mitzva
For all these excuses, there are clear and powerful answers. However, in this limited space, we cannot bring them down. But there really is no need to. Why? Because the rebuilding of the Temple is one of the 613 commandments. Case closed. Have you ever heard anyone say that eating matzoh on Passover is a job for the Messiah? Has anyone ever said: Family purity? Mikveh? What for?! Family purity will descend from the heavens! Or how about: Study Torah!? A lowly sinner like me should study the holy Torah!?

Of course these excuses are absurd. We do not seek ways to avoid performing mitzvot, all the moreso the mitzvah which literally causes the Divine Presence (Shechina) to dwell amongst us. (Dear friends, did G-d allow us to conquer the Temple Mount thirty years ago just so that the Arabs can continue to desecrate His Name on our holiest site, this time under Jewish sovereignty? Shouldn’t we feel that this is the very last mitzvah we should choose to ignore?)

Grass eaters
Many say that since in the exile there were mitzvot which served as substitutes for the “Shechina”, it is not so terrible if we suffice with these substitutes temporarily in Israel, too. But in the exile we had no choice, and Hashem will forgive us for neglecting the mitzvot pertaining to the Temple. But now, when we control our own fate, how can we possibly suffice with substitutes? This is similar to a man who eats grass instead of food. People ask him: What are you doing? He answers: Look, I was once stuck in the wilderness without food. I found some grass and I ate it to survive. They tell him: Fool! Then, you had no choice, so you were forced to eat grass. But now? You have real food, so why are you still eating grass?

And we. When will we stop eating grass?…

Teruma: The Grandest Mitzvah of Them All Faces Total Blackout

It seems as if every year when Parshat Teruma rolls around, rabbis all over the world become hard-pressed for their sermons. Sermons, after all, must be “relevant for our times”. And what could be less relevant for our times than the laws of the Temple, sacrifices, and ritual purity? One third of all the mitzvot of the Torah are dependent upon the building of the Temple, yet this mitzvah is absolutely ignored by so many religious Jews.

Yes, there is such a mitzvah, and this Shabbat we read it: “and they small make a Temple; that I may dwell among them.” A positive commandment that is emphasized no less than laying tefilin or eating matzoh on Passover.

Waiting for Messiah

One of the leading arguments preventing Jews from taking this commandment seriously is that we must wait for the Messiah first. In other words, the mitzvah of building the Temple is not incumbent upon us, but rather upon Messiah. Is this really so? Let us take a look at the words of the Rambam at the very beginning of “Hilchot Bait HaBechirah”: “It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within. We (must) celebrate there three times a year as it is written, ‘and you shall make me a Temple’.” Is the Rambam limiting this mitzvah to Messiah? No. No one in their right mind can take this mitzvah, or any other mitzvah for that matter, and claim that the Messiah has some kind of exclusivity over it. The mitzvot were given so that the Jewish People can fulfill them, and God forbid we dismiss ourselves from even one mitzvah by passing it on to someone else, no matter how great that someone might be.

But at the end of “Hilchot Milachim”, the Rambam writes: “The Messiah will eventually arise… and build the Temple in its place and gather the dispersed of Israel”. This is an apparent contradiction to the Rambam’s own words in “Hilchot Bait Habechirah”. The fact is, there is no contradiction. In “Hilchot Milachim” the Rambam does not tell us that it must be that the Messiah build the Temple, but rather that if it is not already built (either because of the Jewish People’s criminal negligence, or because the redemption will come so swiftly that we will not have time to build it – this being an irrelevant scenario in our times), then he will build it. Other commentators explain that Messiah will build the Temple according to the futuristic plans outlined in the Book of Ezekhiel, since the description is incomprehensible to us, and we, until then, should build the Temple according to the designs of the Second Temple. But most important are the words of the “Kesef Mishnah” (who is Yosef Kairo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch) who comments on the Rambam’s writings in “Hilchot Milachim”: “This chapter and the one after (which deals with the subject of Messiah) is to strengthen the faith about the coming of Messiah, and one should not draw halachic conclusions from it.”

If one is not yet convinced, here are the words of the Rambam in “Egeret from Yemen”: “The mitzvot (all of them) do not depend on the coming of Messiah, but rather we are obligated to immerse ourselves in Torah and mitzvot and try to perform them to perfection, and after doing what we have been obligated to do, if God allows us, or our children, or our children’s children to merit to see Messiah, all the better. And if not, we have not lost a thing, but rather we benefited by doing what we were obligated to do.”

The Temple Coming Down From the Heavens

The second argument against building the Temple today dismisses even the Messiah from taking action. We are taking about the argument that the Third Temple will come down from the heavens, ready and built. First of all, simply put, such an approach automatically cancels many of the 613 mitzvot given by the Torah! In addition, since when do we rely on Aggadic sources to determine halachic matters? It must be understood that when a midrash or Aggadic source mentions a Third Temple coming down from the sky, it is not teaching us the practical (“LaMayse”) or operational aspect of the mitzvah, but rather comes to convey to us an idea that goes beyond the “dry” halacha. Most sages explain that the idea intended here is that once we start to build the Temple (notice how they weren’t so quick to give up on such an important mitzvah), G-d will bring down His Divine Presence upon it. The “Third Temple In the Heavens” represents the spiritual aspect of the physical Temple down on earth. This same concept of a Temple above to coincide with the Temple below is also mentioned in Aggadic sources concerning the building of the Tabernacle by Moses, and after the construction of the first Temple by Solomon.

Bringing 200 Mitzvot Back to Life

Perhaps it would not be so bad if our inactivity and lack of awareness to fulfill this mitzvah caused the Temple Mount to stand empty. But that is not the case. In the absence of Jewish presence there is Muslim occupation of the site. The vacuum created by lack of sanctification of G-d’s Name has been filled by a terrible desecration of God’s Name. Jews go to the “Kotel” and ignore the Muslim domes above their heads and are oblivious to the wailing of the jackals that blare from the loudspeakers five times a day.

Every generation is obligated to build the Holy Temple (see “Ohr HaChayim” on the verse, “and they shall make a temple…”) and the conquest of the Temple Mount 28 years ago gives our generation an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. It still is not too late.

Vayikra: Service to G-d, or Primitive Ritual?

Without a doubt there will be those who object to our bringing the following quote from a particular “religious” Jew who is one of the biggest opponents to the renewal of the sacrifices in our generation.

During a special convention dealing with the Temple Mount, one of the participants who dons a yarmulke and carries with the title of “Rabbi”, made the following comment: “Must we inhale the smell of charred meat in order to manifest our religiousness?..”

And so, why must we bring the words of enemies of Judaism in our parsha commentary? Why give them a forum? Aren’t there things more holy todiscuss on this topic?

The answer is that in many ways, almost every Jew, including observant ones, possesses thoughts similar to the above, and it is this complete mindset which must be changed. What exactly do we mean? After 2,000 years of living without a Temple and without sacrifices, the mere idea of offering sacrifices (the bringing of an animal, slaughtering it with a knife, and bringing its flesh up to the fire on the altar for G-d), has been virtually forgotten. People have even begun to reject and mock the entire concept of animal sacrifices. After all, who does such things today?

For this reason, while it would never cross the lips of a believing Jew to cancel the service of the fire offerings, he also does not exhibit a great yearning to see the “religion” of Judaism return to the days when the offering of the sacrifices stood at their very center. He, too, can not help but think of all this as something that belongs to the Dark Ages.

I mean, between us, who really needs to see flocks of sheep and cattle being scorched on the Temple Mount? After all, serving G-d in the manner in which we have become accustomed includes davening, fasting and other such ritual. How can we suddenly serve G-d in such a crude and material way? Isn’t such practice more appropriate for such countries like India?

But the fact is, clearly, that the way to get close to G-d is the way that G-d Himself told us to; not the way it appears through our very mortal and limited eyes. And G-d set down that the way to serve Him (nu, what can you do?), is to take an unblemished animal and offer it on the altar in the place which G-d chose, on the Temple Mount, as we contemplate how it is really WE who deserve to be slaughtered for our sin. This process nullifies our egos, and actualizes in a very concrete way the severity of our sin and the punishment we deserve, thereby enabling us to reach higher levels of spirituality. Prayer? Fasts? Of course! But only as something to supplement the sacrifices.

Our words are not directed towards that same clown we quoted earlier. Our words are directed at you, the reader, who perhaps mistakenly underestimated the vital importance of the service of the sacrifices and the critical need to restore it.

Know and remember! For 2,000 years, all our prayers have been for the return of our Temple and for the renewal of the sacrifices, as we say in the Amida prayer three times each day, “Restore the service to the Holy of Holies of your Temple. Speedily accept the fire offerings of Israel…”

Do not dare think that today we have “progressed”, and already “passed that stage”. Such thoughts eliminate a very hefty portion of the 613 Mitzvot, and one who would consider canceling even one of them is guilty of heresy.

Let us not be counted among those “moderdox” Jews who attempt to create G-d in their own image. Let us be true Torah Jews who accept all of G-d’s laws regardless of how it may jive with some western concepts which may have diluted our ability to understand and practice authentic Judaism.

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