"This good mountain and the Lebanon."
In the upcoming Shabbat Torah reading of Va'etchanan - "and I entreated" (Deuteronomy 3:23) - Moshe rabbenu, (Moses our master), describes in his own words how he beseeched G-d, (with 515 separate entreaties, according to Midrash), to allow him to enter the land of Israel, but alas, to no avail. And what specifically did Moshe desire to see within the land? "This good mountain and the Lebanon." (ibid 3:25) Our sages teach us that "this good mountain" refers to Jerusalem, (Mount Moriah), and "the Lebanon" is a type of code word for the Holy Temple. (Lebanon, in Hebrew, Levanon, derived from the Hebrew lavan, white, refers to the purifying, whitening, power of the Holy Temple.)
Over three thousand years later we find ourselves still praying for "this good mountain" Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple. In fact, our yearning and feeling of loss over the destruction of the Holy Temple reached a kind of annual crescendo this past Tuesday, Tish'a b'Av, (the 9th of Av), the anniversary of the destruction of both Holy Temples, a day marked by fasting and the assumption of the customs of mourning. What exactly are we mourning? The fact that the Roman legions destroyed the Holy Temple some 1940 years ago? Or the fact that this past year, the twelve months which have passed since the last Tish'a b'Av, we have failed and fallen short of our responsibility to rebuild the Holy Temple? After all, Jerusalem is the capital of the modern state of Israel and the Temple Mount was liberated by the army of Israel forty three years ago. What is holding us back?
This year the three week period of remembrance and mourning, which began with the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz and culminated with the fast of the 9th of Av was marked by a notably different spirit than previous years. Whereas, up until this year, the three weeks were by and large a repeat of the same cathartic experience of anguish and pervading tragedy experienced for two thousand years, this year more and more voices were being raised, questioning the prevailing status quo: Yes, we should fast and mourn as we have done now for nearly two millennia, for the absence of the Holy Temple burns in our hearts and stings in our souls just as painfully as ever, but are the mourning and the fasting really enough? We are of a generation blessed with both opportunity and responsibility unknown, and nearly unfathomable to the thousand generations which preceded us. We actually have the ability, within our reach, to make a change, to begin, and perhaps even to complete the process of turning our "lament into dancing," (Psalm 30:12) of transforming a desolate and hate-filled place, the Temple Mount under Moslem control, back into the place from which G-d's presence, the holy Shechinah, will shine forth into the world, from the site of the Holy Temple.
Today, more people are learning about the Holy Temple; today more people are becoming intimate with the great blessing to be received via the Holy Temple; today more people are discussing the possibility of rebuilding the Holy Temple; today more people are visiting the site of the Holy Temple, and today more people are making great sacrifices in order to insure that the promise of the Holy Temple will continue to be kindled in more and more hearts. And today more and more people are concluding that the obstacles to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, though they are many and they are very real, are not as insurmountable nor as daunting as we imagined only yesterday. For as the desire of the people of Israel grows to build a house for G-d, the very Sanctuary that He commanded us to build in Exodus 25:8, the once intimidating obstacles become much less formidable.
Today is the 12th of Av, the halfway point between the 9th, the day in which the crowning purpose and perfection of creation, the Holy Temple, was destroyed, and the 15th of Av, also known as Tu b'Av, described by our sages as the happiest day of the year, (along with Yom Kippur). It was on this day, (the 15th), that, according to tradition, the Divine will of G-d determined the spiritual destiny of the yet-uncreated man. In other words, if the 9th of Av currently represents the nadir of our spiritual reality, then the 15th of Av represents the high point of our spiritual reality: the sublime joy of knowing our G-d given purpose in this world. If two such significant dates on the Hebrew calendar can exist so close one to the other, then surely the world in which we live today, bereft of the Holy Temple can, in the blink of an eye, become a world restored with the beauty and joy of the Holy Temple.
Moshe rabbenu himself was keenly aware that every prayer is heard by G-d and answered by G-d, and, after stating that he entreated HaShem with prayer, and was denied, he immediately concluded, "For what great nation is there that has G-d so near to it, as HaShem our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him?" (ibid 4:7) Moshe knew that if G-d determined that he, Moshe, would not merit to see the Holy Temple in his life, then surely his people would ultimately merit, with much blood, sweat and tears, and much heartfelt yearning, to build the Holy Temple and witness the return of the Shechinah, the Divine presence of G-d emanating from "This good mountain and the Lebanon." (ibid 3:25) May we see in our lives that which Moshe longed to see in his.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven, recorded live in the midst of the solemn fast day of Tish'a b'Av, discuss their morning, having just come down from a riveting experience of visiting the Temple Mount on this day, the day of the Holy Temple’s destruction. Together they grapple with their pain and the anguish of all of Israel and seek to understand the message of hope and encouragement that this day conveys. It is unquestionably up to us to fulfill the prophet Zechariah’s words and see to it that this day becomes a day of gladness and joy.