All around the world, and up and down the Land of Israel this week on Tuesday we marked Tisha b’av, a serious and painful memorial of all the evil events that have befallen us over the millennia. We as Jews have had our fair share (some would say more than our fair share) of persecutions, attacks and dire existential moments. Difficult too to not fall into the trap of the ‘victim mentality’, it’s our lot in life, we are the lightening rod of abuse from a world openly in rebellion against G-d etc etc. The pain has shaped us and patterned our thinking, and yet… dare we even now have the courage to face reality?
In the first century one particular historical event fundamentally changed the course of Jewish history: the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. As this transformational moment is memorialised on Tisha b’av we are encouraged to consider why this happened. The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam or ‘unfounded hatred’. There may be some truth to that as amongst the many ‘Judaisms’ of the first century it is known that rivalry and mistrust was huge. Different visions of what Judaism was, is and how to live as a Jew competed with each other in the faith market place for supremacy.
However, the focus on the physical destruction of the Temple hides a reality that we must actually turn our attention to. The Temple, as beautiful as it was, was only stone and superbly crafted and expensively decorated masonry. It was what the Temple stood for that was more important. The Temple was the ‘home’ of the visible and manifest presence of our G-d in our midst. With the Temple gone, that focus went too. We have to therefore ask, what is it that drives G-d’s presence away? The answer according to Torah is sin. King David amongst his own repentances cried out to G-d to ‘not take His Holy Spirit from him’, Rav Shaul talks about ‘not quenching the Spirit’, again in the general context of our sinfulness. Sin drives G-d away. Without His presence the Temple would not survive. The irony of the situation and (by extrapolation to today) its modern counterpart is brought out by Rav Naphtali Yehudah Tzvi Berlin in his commentary on Bereshit. He describes the Jewish community in the first century as a ‘generation of superior Torah knowledge and observance’. Today we too live in a day when Jewish study is deep and widespread, ranging across many different denominations. Yet study didn’t prevent the sin of the first century and consequent destruction of the Temple, and sadly despite our knowledge of Torah today that too cannot and will not save us. What we need now is a renewal and revival of Judaism that will reach out to all Jews, and subsequently the nations too, that will bring our G-d back to His rightful place in our faith and Land. G-d’s presence MUST be returned to the heart of Judaism, to the core of our faith. Once our sin has been dealt with and we are cleaned/washed again as Ezekiel determines WILL happen, then we can expect our nation to light up this world and so bring an end to the attacks that seem to be our constant travelling companion.