The Temple Institute: The Mourning Game



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The Mourning Game

August 6, 2003
© 2003 The Temple Institute, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved

Tisha B'Av begins tonight, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. This is the day on which both the First and Second Holy Temples were destroyed (and many other calamities also befell the Jewish people on this day). Fasting and the recital of the Biblical scroll of Lamentations mark the day, and Jews observe rites of mourning. In order for us to be totally focused on the loss of the Temple, we all become mourners for one day, and tonight we will conduct ourselves accordingly, in the manner of those who have (Heaven forbid) suffered the loss of a close relative. For example: we refrain from wearing leather shoes and grooming, we do not greet one another, and we sit upon the ground.

When the seven-day mourning period for a relative draws to a close, the mourner must rise up from the ground and begin to resume his life and get his act together again, though that is sometimes a formidable and nearly-impossible task for one whose world has been drastically and irrevocably changed. In fact, it is traditional for another relative or friend to actually extend a hand and pull the mourner up physically from the ground. Otherwise, left on his own he may never get up off the ground... that is how it difficult it is for him to face his harsh new reality.

Our sages teach us that complacency and foot-dragging in building the Holy Temple leads to punishment for all of Israel. This was the reason for the death of all those thousands who fell in war and in plague in the time of King David. They only fell because they did not actively seek the building of the Temple (Midrash Tehillim 17). This teaches us that the entire nation was faulted and punished for delaying the building. The words of the Midrash conclude: "How much more so does this apply! For if that generation, which never even saw the Temple—it was neither built nor destroyed in their time—was punished for not expressing desire for it, how much more so are we guilty. For it was destroyed in our generation, and we neither mourn for it nor seek mercy regarding it."

It behooves us to regard ourselves as the generation in which the Temple was destroyed, for two reasons. The first is because the sages teach that "every generation in which the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, is reckoned as the generation in which it is destroyed." But the second reason is simply because in our own time it is being destroyed all over again. The Temple Mount has been closed to non-Moslem visitors for nearly three years, with the exception of a small number of groups who were permitted to visit recently, until Moslem pressure and threats once again forced its closure. In the meantime, while Jerusalem's mayor speaks in a totally unacceptable manner about Jews who wish to ascend the mount in purity - demonstrating his gross insensitivity and disconnection to Judaism's holiest site - the Temple Mount is gradually becoming the center of Islamic fundamentalism in the Land of Israel.

The Temple Mount is both the spiritual center and apex of Israel. In Hebrew it is Har HaBayit, the "Mountain of the House" - for it is not just another place, another problem, another issue... it is the house, it is home. Thus it is everything, and without it we have no home. But it is also a microcosm of Israel's entirety, and thus it is only the tip of the iceberg and the treatment is receives is demonstrative of everything else going on around us: leaders who try to lull us into believing in the false hudna (cease-fire), even though violence and incitement still rage all around us and experts inform us that the enemy is just using this time to prepare more attacks against us; leaders who are willing to pump millions into a "security fence" designed to keep the Jews fenced into a ghetto in their own land, instead of dealing with the real problem...

The rites of mourning are an important and constructive vehicle for aiding in the psychological rehabilitation of one who has suffered an irreparable loss. However, the rites of mourning, if unaccompanied by a proper resolve, can be nothing more than self-deception, a ruse... the mourning game.

Are we really mourning for the Holy Temple, or are we satisfying ourselves with the trappings of mourning, satisfied to be acting out the part? Are we doing all we can? It is much more convenient to mourn than it is to attempt to rebuild. The true measure of the sincerity of our mourning should be measured in our attitude regarding the Holy Temple and the Temple Mount during the rest of the year, when it is not so stylish to be concerned with this subject. What are we doing about it all year long, to ensure that we will not have to mourn again this Tisha B'Av?

It was one thing to mourn for the Temple when we were strangers in a foreign land, and the Holy Temple was nothing more than the memory of a far-off dream. Should we be acting the same way in our own land, pretending that we are strangers in our own land, and lending a hand in our own destruction? It would seem that we cannot afford to keep on doing what we have been doing for the past thousand years.

Everyone familiar with therapy knows that rather than accept responsibility, it's much easier to simply blame the parent. But G-d commands us to be sovereigns in our own land; G-d commands us to build the Temple. It is much easier and far less threatening to mourn than it is to build. If the king desires that we join in the meal and sit with him at the table, why should we insist upon demeaning ourselves by sitting under the table?

Before and after Tisha B'av we traditionally greet each other by saying, "Next year, may this day turn into a holiday." But if we really - really - want to see the nation, the land of Israel, and the Holy Temple rebuilt, perhaps we could consider extending each other a hand to pull each other off the floor. Perhaps we should consider rising up, when no one holds us down. Does it have to wait until next year?

Rabbi Chaim Richman

PO Box 31876 Jerusalem, Israel 97500



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