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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5758) By Rabbi Pinchas Winston | Series: | Level:

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 curtain.”

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.”

Pinchas Winston

Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details!