We have just entered one of the saddest portions on the Jewish calendar known as the ‘Three Weeks.’ These three weeks, between the Fast of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, commemorate many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, but mainly the destruction of the First and Second Temples. It is difficult for many Jews today to relate to such a tragedy. What does the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem thousands of years ago have to do with my life today as a Jew in the modern world?
Many of us are unsure of how to mourn the loss of the Temple, because we do not understand its significance to our lives. During the Three Weeks, which culminate with Tisha B’Av we mourn all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish nation in history. However, it’s important to remember that we are primarily remembering the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which resided in Jerusalem. In fact all our later suffering is intimately tied to the loss of the Temple (for further reference, see here).
What was the Temple? Today we may have trouble understanding this, but in its day, the Temple was the central focus of Judaism. In Temple-times it was the place where plant and animal sacrifices were brought and the major holidays were celebrated. It united all of the Jewish people. Most importantly, the Divine Presence known as the Shechina, dwelt within the Temple’s Holy of Holies. Here’s G-d’s presence could be most acutely perceived. The loss of the Temple was not just a tragedy for the Jews, but for the entire world – even for the nations who could not appreciate it. The Temple was a sacred meeting ground between Heaven and Earth, humankind and the Divine, G-d and His people. True, G-d is still here, but the intimate closeness that could be achieved through having a Temple is gone. A great light vanished from the world when the Temple was destroyed.
Without the Temple, we are in a period of time called Galut (exile), may it end now. We serve G-d and G-d’s love for us has not been extinguished, but it is now much harder to serve G-d and perform the mitzvahs with the feeling that we are in a relationship – never mind a close relationship.
However, we have been promised by our Prophets that it will not always be this way. We lost the Second Temple through baseless hatred and squabbling among Jews, but in our own time it is said that it will be rebuilt through baseless love. Every single mitzvah or good deed you perform is laying a brick in the reconstruction of the Temple. Studying Torah, serving G-d through the performance of the mitzvot, and increasing in acts of kindness can hasten the coming of the Redemption for which Jews have been praying for centuries.
Use this time of the Three Weeks to learn about the Temple, its rituals, and its significance. Brush up on your Jewish history and try to appreciate the sacrifices and pain our ancestors endured so that Judaism would survive and so that we could be Jews today. What kind of sacrifices are we willing to make in own generation? Are we fit carry the torch or will we simply let it burn out? In this way we may begin to feel a sense of loss and yearning for the Temple. Yearning for the Redemption and the reconstruction of the Temple is part of being Jewish and an excellent way to deepen our relationship with G-d. May it happen that the “Temple that will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7) be rebuilt upon its former site speedily and in our days.