For the week ending 21 August 2010 / 10 Elul 5770

Joyful Mourning

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Manya

Dear Rabbi,

The three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash is always so depressing. There are so many don’ts that I personally feel overwhelmed and overly-limited. Is there anything positive that can be done during this period to help us remember the Temple and stir up longing for its rebuilding?

Dear Manya,

The laws of the three weeks are intentionally patterned after the laws of mourning in order to instill within us the utter sense of loss that we should feel in not having the Holy Temple. And in truth, a mourner doesn’t need to be told to feel sorrow over the loss of a loved one – it comes completely naturally as a result of the mourner’s sense of void and bewilderment as to how it is possible to continue living without the departed. So if we find mourning over the Temple arduous, it’s because we really don’t appreciate what we’ve lost.

And if the mourning practices are limiting, this should also remind us just how limited we really are, both physically and spiritually, without the Temple.

That being said, we are not required to be sad.

The Sages taught that when the month of Adar (Purim) arrives we are to increase joy; when the month of Av (Tisha b’Av) arrives we are to reduce joy. They didn’t say that we are to be sad, but rather to reduce joy. This means that we must always be in a state of joy, but during this time that joy is to be tempered by the realization of how much more we’ll rejoice after the Redemption – as in the verse, “Then our mouths will be full with laughter and our tongues with joyous song” (Ps. 126).

The Talmud (Maccot 24b) relates a story where Rabbi Akiva and the Rabbis, overlooking the Temple in its destruction, noticed a fox darting out of the place of the Holy of Holies. The Rabbis cried over this desecration but Rabbi Akiva laughed. “Why are you laughing?” they asked. Rabbi Akiva replied, “Now that I see the fulfillment of the prophecy comparing the Temple Mount to a desolate forest (Micha 3:12), I am assured that in the future will be fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 8:

“I will return to Zion, and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth, ...Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem...And the city shall be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets...Behold I will deliver My people from the east and from the west...And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I shall be their G-d, in truth and in righteousness.”

So you see, there’s an element of hidden joy within our sources’ discussion of the Destruction. In fact, we’re told by verses and by the Sages that after the final redemption, the fast days recalling the destruction of the Temple will be transformed into holidays of feasting and rejoicing. This is odd. It is understandable that once the Temple is rebuilt, those fasts will be nullified, but that those days should themselves become holidays doesn’t seem to make sense. Rather we see here as well the idea that there is an inherent aspect of joy latent in these days, which will fully blossom after Redemption.

What can we do to tap into this positive dimension of mourning?

For one, we can learn about the Beit Hamikdash – it’s beauty, grandeur, structure and function and its elevating affect on both Jews in the Land of Israel and on all nations worldwide. Knowing as much as possible about the centrality of the Temple to spirituality and prophecy, its being the focal point of all humanity, greatly enhances our sense of loss in its absence but inspires corresponding joyous longing for its rebuilding.

A second proactive, positive thing we can do to express our longing for its rebuilding is to increase brotherly love among our People. The Temple was destroyed because of unjustified hatred between Jews. It will be rebuilt through unconditional love for one another. We must make every effort to reach out to each other with sincere care and respect, as brothers and sisters, the children of G-d. When our Father sees how we receive and treat each other, He’ll be moved to receive us in kind.

A last sphere of positivity in mourning is strengthening our Torah learning and observance of mitzvot. Each step of progress we make in the name of coming closer to G-d, hastens G-d’s return to us. So much so that our learning and good deeds become spiritual stones placed in the Temple being built on high. When that spiritual Beit Hamikdash will be completed, it will descend into this world as a soul into a body, and this Resurrected Beit Hamikdash will glow with the glory of G-d, kindling renewed fervor and inspiration among Jews and all nations to serve G-d as one.

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