The Tenth of Teves
Another Beginning of a Different End
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
During the First Temple period, right before its destruction (3338/423
BCE), Nubuchadnetzer began a siege of Jerusalem that would end in the
devastation of the Temple and Jerusalem herself, and the exile of the
remainder of the Jewish nation into Babylonia. The day that siege began was
the tenth day of Teves.
In the minds of many Jews today, the Temple holds little importance. Many
unaffilliated Jews may not even know that the Jewish people once had
temples, or of the importance they held in their eyes. Even for Jews who
uphold Torah in its entirety, the Temple barely seems to be missing; Jews
seem to be surviving quite nicely without it.
True, there have been pogroms, and worse, a Holocaust. But even in Temple
times we were not free of enemy attack. The Temple itself, twice, could not
withstand evil empires and fell to destruction at the hands of disbelievers
and scoffers! What could the Temple possibly offer us if it were here
today? What are we missing without it?
I once heard Rabbi Ya'akov Weinberg, shlita (Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel,
Baltimore), speak in Jerusalem on another of the five yearly fast days, the
Seventeenth of Tammuz, which mourns the day the enemy broke through the
walls of Jerusalem during Roman times. He was trying to impress upon us how
spiritually insensitive the Jewish world had become over the centuries to
the loss of the Temple.
He asked us to imagine talking to a blind person who claimed that he lacked
nothing in life, having compensated for his handicap. Who in their mind
wouldn't be thinking:
"Wonderful! It is great that you have learned to live without eyesight, as
you should. But how can you think for one moment that eyesight is so
trivial a part of daily life that one need not even feel its loss? Have you
ever seen the deep red of a rose, or the profound orange of a sunset? Have
you seen the soul on the face of another person, or even you own? There is
so much you will never be able to appreciate because you can't see it!
Compensate yes, but not appreciate the lack? No, that is not correct."
Without the Temple we are spiritually crippled. The Talmud writes:
Since the Temple was destroyed, the Gates of Prayer have been closed ...
and a metal wall intercedes between the Jewish people and their Father in
heaven ... (Brochos 32b)
Even more has happened, but this statement sums up the net result:
inability to relate to G-d. Western thought has resulted in agnostism, not
because intellectually, they have called the existence of G-d into
question. Rather, belief in G-d, and therefore morality and personal
greatness, is on shaky ground because, without a Temple, a wall exists
between us and Ultimate Truth. Without a Temple, Jewish unity is
impossible; without a Temple, our prayers bounce back off of an "iron
The Tenth of Teves, and the other fast days like it that culminate in Tisha
B'Av, a 24-hour fast on the day of the destruction itself, comes to make us
realize that, as much as we have compensated for our spiritual loss, still,
we are lame. As much as we have been able to make a life for ourselves in
exile, still, we are stuck and immersed in exile. As much as we live with
some form of peace of mind and an apparent happiness and joy, really, it is
an illusion. For, if we had ever tasted the true joy of having a Temple,
every other joy would pale next to it.
This is what King David wrote:
"A song of ascents. When G-d will return the captivity of Tzion, we will be
like dreamers. Then," and only then, "will our mouths be filled with
laughter and our tongue with glad song ... Those who sow in tears will reap
in glad song. He who carries the measure of seeds walks along weeping, but
will return in joy, a carrier of sheaves." (Tehillim 126)
May our generation merit to become the "carrier of sheaves."