Well I looked into a house I once lived in
Around the time I first went on my own…
Now the distance is done and the search has begun
I’ve come to see where my beginnings have gone…
And the house that grows older and finally crumbles
I once sat with a man in the backyard of his home when he declared that “This house has lost its soul.” I don’t recall what brought about such a stark comment. I was not really sure what he meant and was not comfortable pursuing his painfully honest statement. To be clear, we are not talking about a trailer park home whose roof is sagging but a gorgeous place sitting on a piece of property that most would die for.
What does it mean that a home loses its soul? The upcoming day of Tisha B’Av which starts right after Shabbat might give us an answer. Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on that date among other calamities such as the fall of Betar in 135 CE, the last Jewish stronghold against the Romans who occupied the land of Israel at the time.
I am sure there were numerous factors, political and otherwise, that led to the Temple’s demise but Jewish tradition in the Talmud boils it down to one fatal flaw. The rabbis tell us that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinum – gratuitous hatred that Jews felt for one another. It was not unlike today where there are many different factions of Jews and tension among them. But thankfully unlike today, they more than “did not just get along”, they actually turned on one another – even violently.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai had to be smuggled beyond the walls of Jerusalem with a ruse of being a corpse in a coffin, not because of repercussions from the Roman tyranny but because he feared for his life from his fellow Jewish zealots. They would have opposed and killed him if they knew of his plan to cut a deal with the Roman rulership by giving up Jerusalem in exchange for an alternative site, Yavneh, to continue Jewish study and to relocate the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court. Thankfully, we have not reached that point of Jewish infighting in our day despite our differences. As for our differences, you need look no further than Israeli politics and their quarterly elections for an example.
When it comes to unity among our people, the Momentum/JWRP people like to say, “Unity Without Uniformity”. Unity doesn’t mean that all Jews have to think, act and look alike. Nay, it is our diversity that has made us such a unique and powerful people throughout the ages. The problems arise when certain groups begin to express their personal needs without considering the larger effect it may have on the nation as a whole. When that sort of infighting begins within the family, the rot within their home starts to take place.
This was illustrated in last week’s Torah portion when Moshe chastised the tribes that requested to remain on the east side of the Jordan instead of going into Israel proper because it was more advantageous for them economically. They did not consider how this demand may affect the morale of the rest of the nation. Moshe was not opposed to their needs per se but was upset that they did not consider the demoralizing effect it would have on the people as a whole, especially in light of the affair of the spies who turned the hearts of the nation away from going to Israel earlier. They had little regard that their request could cause a repeat of that sad and tragic episode.
This lack of awareness of the larger picture happened much earlier in our history when the Jewish nation was just a clan, when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. When Joseph reveals himself, his message to his brothers was not one of personal vendetta but of their lack of sensitivity to the fall-out that resulted in their sale of him. “Is our father still alive?” he asks them, as if to say, ” Did you not kill our father emotionally in your righteous indignation of your treatment of me? Could you not look beyond your pettiness, lift your sights and see the painful repercussions your actions would have on our father?” He did not fault them for what they did to him. He faulted them for what they did to their father. A prime example of people believing they are so right that they end up being so wrong.
Differences are never the issue. They are inherent to any group and certainly to Jews. But when those differences begin to take on a life of their own, when they become the raison d’être of the particular faction and supersede the overall good of the nation – then it is just a matter of time before the home, and thereby the homeland, begins to disintegrate and decay.
The Romans didn’t destroy the Temple, it was destroyed much earlier. The first cracks appeared even before it was built, in Joseph’s generation. Structural faults set in during Moshe’s rule as factions and tribes took hold and gave thought only to their own tribal needs. Those faults expanded after Joshua died and, as the Book of Judges repeatedly relates, “everyone did whatever was right in his own eyes”. Severe decay began to spread when a separatist movement took hold and Israel was divided into two distinct nations of Judah and Israel after Solomon’s rule.
Such was the pattern for hundreds and hundreds of years and, with each internal conflict, with each argument, with each quarrel, with each refusal to talk to one another, the foundation, walls and roof deteriorated more and more. By the time the Romans got there, it was a building that was so rotted that it was well on its way to being condemned. It was already on the brink of teetering, the Romans were merely the wrecking ball.
We regularly talk about rebuilding the Temple. At the end of Pesach we declare Next Year in Jerusalem with that hope. We break a glass at every wedding to remind ourselves that the Temple still lay in ruins. What we need to keep in mind is that the rebuilding of the Temple is not dependant on laying a cornerstone at the Temple Mount, nor by figuring out how to do away with the mosque at its site. It’s not about creating a building campaign and hiring the best construction company, nor is it about how loudly we can sing how much we want Moshiach.
God’s House will be rebuilt when its soul is resurrected and returned to it. And that can only happen when each Jew truly cares and loves his or her fellow Jew more than they love their personal expression of Judaism. When they step outside of themselves, outside of their faction, outside of their righteous viewpoint and ask themselves, “Is this fight worth it in the larger scheme of things? Is my derision of this different Jew and argument with him or her bettering the overall good of the nation, or is it merely tearing us apart?”
Then, and only then, will the House once again have a Soul. And then and only then will the Creator of all souls come to rest His Divine Presence – His Soul – there as well.
Well I looked into the sky for my anthem
And the words and the music came through
But words and music will never touch the beauty that I’ve seen
Looking into you – and that’s true