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3 Av 5764 - July 21, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Behind the Stones: Connecting to the Temple's Destruction

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

Yirmiyohu's Tears

At the time of the Temple's destruction, while Yirmiyohu was sitting and weeping about the tragedy, he was approached by a Greek philosopher (some say Plato). The philosopher asked him, "You are known to be a very learned man; how can you cry about the fall of a few stones?" Yirmiyohu inquired of the Gentile scholar "In your discipline as a philosopher do you have any questions which remain unresolved?"

The philosopher proceeded to expound several perplexing and confounding paradoxes. The prophet instantly resolved all the anomalies in a clear and lucid manner. The Greek philosopher was astounded at Yirmiyohu's brilliance and perspicuity of thought. He beseeched Yirmiyohu to reveal the source of his exceptional wisdom. Yirmiyohu responded: "From these very stones which I lament over." (Rema in the introduction to Toras HaOloh).

While the Temple stood, Hashem dwelled amongst us and we could recognize His existence. Aside from the miracles which took place there daily, there were mitzvos which helped Kohanim, Leviim and Yisroelim to recognize Hashem's Presence in the Beis Hamikdosh. These included fearing and guarding the Mikdosh, and preparation for the Temple service. A clearer understanding of these mitzvos will help us to appreciate what we are missing without the Beis Hamikdosh.

Walking In Awe

"You should fear My Mikdosh" (Vayikra 19,30). Let us not make the same mistake as the Greek philosopher who could only accept what his eyes relayed to him, and erroneously thought that Yirmiyohu was crying over fallen stones. The Torah commands us not to fear the building of the Temple, but Hashem's Shechinah which dwells within its walls.

The Beis Hamikdosh was Hashem's palace, and when the Jewish people entered its premises they were able to experience His Majesty. In order for us to sense what such an experience may have been like, we may try to visualize ourselves standing before a flesh and blood king. After that we can relate that experience back to visiting Hashem's house, and begin to fathom what we are missing without the Beis Hamikdosh.

"Vagabond" conjures up the image of a person with his possessions slung over his shoulder in a handkerchief, traveling with a rough-looking walking stick, and his feet covered with dust. Certainly a person should not appear before royalty in such an unkempt state. One's appearance should reflect the grandeur of royalty, and fear of the king obligates a person to look presentable.

In front of a sovereign every movement is calculated to generate the maximum splendor towards the central figure. Even the way that a person walks is influenced by the surroundings. Running like a commoner is certainly inappropriate, and an effort should be made that one's strides should express the honor of the royal setting.

After serving a king, a person cannot just casually get up and leave. Royal protocol dictates that a person not turn his back on the majesty before him. Instead of walking away, small steps should be taken backwards until he has departed from the king's courtyard.

Another facet of honoring a sovereign is that the monarch sits on His throne and the subjects stand before Him. For this reason, sitting was forbidden in the Temple courtyard. Only the kings who were descendants of Dovid Hamelech were permitted to sit there, in order to show respect for Hashem's appointed ruler.

All of these aspects of royalty are part of the mitzvah of being in awe of Hashem while in the Beis Hamikdosh. When we had a Beis Hamikdosh we could go to Hashem's palace and literally feel His Presence. Today we can only learn about what it was like and long for it's return (based on Rambam Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 7:1-6).


Even after the Temple's destruction, the mitzvah of fearing the Mikdosh remains. Visiting the Kosel Hama'arovi should stir us towards true awe of our Creator. Sincere prayers accompanied by heartfelt tears have the power to restore the Beis Hamikdash to the splendor that once was.

On another level, we can fulfill this mitzvah in a beis knesses and beis medrash as well. These places are called "a small Mikdosh," and according to some opinions behaving there with awe is a Torah-based commandment (Yirei'im 394, Chayei Odom 17:6). We should be especially careful to avoid disrespectful behavior there, for our Sages reveal that treating places of Torah and tefillah with disdain causes them to be transformed into places of idol worship, Rachmono litzlan (Mishnah Berurah 151:1).

Furthermore, our prayers serve as the substitute for the avodoh that we are missing. Our Sages patterned the preparations for tefillah in the same manner as the Temple service and obligated us, for example, to wash our hands before prayer. During the prayers we continually reiterate our desire that Hashem should return to the Beis Hamikdash. We finish Shemoneh Esrei by bowing down and taking three step backwards as we take our leave of the Divine Presence.

Preparing for Avodoh

"When you come to the Ohel Moed, you should wash with water in order that you should not die . . ." (Shemos 30:20). Before entering the courtyard of the Mikdosh to take part in the avodoh, the Kohanim had to go to the mikveh. Therefore, any Kohen who wanted to volunteer for the special services of that day had to wake up early and immerse himself (Yuma 3:3; Tomid 1:2).

In order to touch one of the consecrated vessels or perform any service in the Beis Hamikdosh, the Kohanim were obligated to wash their hands and feet. A Levi drew water from the Kiyor and the Kohen would stand before him with his foot raised towards his hand. That way the hands and feet could be washed simultaneously.

Perhaps there is no greater sign of total subservience than hishtachavoyoh, prostrating oneself completely on the floor. After every act of avodoh, the Kohen would be mishtachaveh on the floor of the Mikdosh. In this way the Kohen likened himself to a servant leaving his master (Tiferes Yisroel, Tomid 6:1).

The Royal Sentinel

"You should maintain watchmen in the Ohel Moed" (Bamidbar 18:4). This watch was not a protection against thieves or damage. The purpose of the sentries was for the honor they imply and give, that is, to instill a palatial atmosphere to the Beis Hamikdosh (Rambam Hilchos Beis HaBechira 8:1).

According to some opinions, this mitzvah only applied at night (Ibid. 8:2). During the day, the Beis Hamikdosh was bustling with activity and the extra guard was not necessary (Boaz, Tomid 1:1). Others explain that the Beis Hamikdosh had a constant honor guard and even during the day sentinels stood on duty (Rosh and Raavad in their introduction to Tomid).

This guard was maintained at twenty-one posts by the Leviim, except for three places which were watched by Kohanim (Middos 1:1). In order that every area should be attended to, they were constantly circling the Temple grounds (Rambam Positive Mitzvah 22). Although they were generally required to stand, if they got extremely weary, the guards were permitted to sit down (Tomid 27a).

During the night, there was a constant changing of the guard, in order to give each guard a chance to sleep. The watchmen slept on the ground, like guards of a palace, ready at a moment's notice to spring out of bed and attend to their position. While sleeping, the Kohanim did not wear their special attire, lest they debase their special garments. Rather they wore their everyday clothing, and placed their bigdei kehunah near their heads (Tomid 1:1 according to Tiferes Yisroel).

A Time For Tears

A bride stands under the chuppah next to her mother on her wedding night. The mother, a widow, is crying uncontrollably, totally unaware of what is going on around her. Her daughter asks, "Did I did something wrong? Maybe I am not dressed properly? Maybe my chosson doesn't find favor in you eyes?"

Her mother looks at her and says, "You look beautiful and you couldn't have found a better chosson. The only reason that I'm crying is because your father isn't here."

Looking around today, Klal Yisroel appears to be thriving. Yeshivos are opening, shuls are constantly being built, and new Torah works are published regularly. Seemingly the Jewish people are quite well off.

The moed of Tisha B'Av comes to dispel this perception, and wake us up to the realization of what is really taking place. Without the Beis Hamikdosh our Torah and tefilloh are sorely lacking, and we are distanced from our Creator. Like the above scenario, we are orphans without a father.

But in our case it is much worse, for our Father longs to come back to us, and only our actions stop Him from returning.

No one should expect to go to shul on Tisha B'Av and to be suddenly overcome by tears. Don't think that this realization will suddenly dawn upon us as the sun sets on the eighth of Av. The only way that we can hope to feel any pain over the enormous tragedy that of not having a Beis Hamikdosh, is to take some time trying to comprehend what the Beis Hamikdosh was, and why it is one of the most fundamental aspects of the Jewish nation.

In the merit of trying to understand the importance of the Beis Hamikdosh and what we lack without it, may Hashem open our eyes to what we are missing in Golus, and open our hearts to cry out to Him on Tisha B'Av.

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