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2,000 YEARS AND COUNTING

by Rabbi Yossi Lew    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In last week's Torah portion, the instruction is given to delegate "cities of refuge" to which a person who accidentally killed someone can flee from pursuers and avengers.

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In last week's Torah portion, the instruction is given to delegate "cities of refuge" to which a person who accidentally killed someone can flee from pursuers and avengers. If it is determined that the killing was accidental, the killer remains in the refuge city until the death of the Kohen Gadol (high priest), at which time he may return home. This sojourn is regarded by our sages as "galut" (exile), for although he is safe from attackers, the person is now relegated to live in a strange and foreign place, sequestered and isolated, "exiled" from family and friends.

The Torah discusses the cities of refuge in three other places. It is interesting that the Torah prefers to record the specific instructions and details pertaining to galut in a portion which is always read during this period in the Jewish calendar, a sad time for the Jewish people known as "the three weeks". These three weeks began two weeks ago from last Thursday, on the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, when the walls around Jerusalem were breached by our enemies, and will culminate next Thursday on Tisha B'Av when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. Both of these days are marked by fasting and praying. The breaching of the walls and eventual destruction of the Temple were the beginning of the exile and suffering that has lasted for almost two thousand years, until the present day.

This notion of fasting and mourning for the downed walls seems somewhat perplexing. Let's face it: The broken walls around Jerusalem seem like a mere detail in a long chain of grievous misfortunes for the Jewish people. After the many tragedies and troubles that we have incurred throughout the past two thousand years - and after the rebuilding of a home for the Jewish people in the land of Israel, and with wonderful communities throughout the world, wouldn't it make more sense to fast and pray for the likes of world peace, elimination of hunger, abolishing illness, and so forth?

We can understand this by first examining the concept of galut (exile). This lengthy galut which we mourn does not exclusively refer to the removal of the Jewish people from our homeland, or to all of the other terrible calamities which have befallen our people throughout these years. Rather, what we are really mourning is the destruction of the Temple and what it stood for. The Temple exemplified the revelation of Hashem to His people and to this world. The destruction of the Temple personifies the removal of this revelation and Hashem going into "hiding" so to speak. This is the real tragedy.

To illustrate: A king once had a favorite son who was banished from the empire. While in exile, the young prince, having been removed from the shelter and protection of his home, experienced all kinds of torments and miseries. The smart prince would utilize every iota of ambition and energy to only one single detail - to return home to his father the king where he could revel in the majestic glory of the monarchy. Once back home, all other distressing afflictions and worries would automatically disappear. The same is true with us, the Jewish people. Our whole focus and attention should be on returning home, back to Hashem's home, our Holy Temple, and to experience that divine revelation once more, when Hashem will welcome us back into His kingdom. Once that happens, there will naturally be no more trouble.

This three week period gives us a chance to rise above the ongoing troubles of the galut, and reflect upon the real issue and meaning of our exile. The breaching of the walls around Jerusalem and the ensuing destruction of the Temple is a core problem, not a mere detail in our sea of troubles. Our prayers and thoughts should therefore be focused towards the main solution, that Hashem should immediately send us Mashiach (Messiah), and consequently herald in a time of peace, tranquillity, and goodness. As we ask of Hashem in the daily Shemoneh Esrei prayer, we need to see "b'shuvcha l'tzion b'rachamim - when Hashem will return to Zion in mercy." We have been "sequestered" for way too long in galut. We must be allowed to come home.

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Mazal Tov to Rabbi Lew and his wife on the birth of a baby girl, Devorah Leah.

Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefilah, youth coordinator at Chabad of Georgia, and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School.

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