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THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

by Mendel Starkman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

During the Six Day War, the Israeli soldiers, with Hashem's help, were able to reunite the city of Jerusalem. As they fought into the Old City, they made their way to the Western Wall. After so many years away, the Jews were finally able to lay their eyes on the sole remaining physical remnant of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple).

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During the Six Day War, the Israeli soldiers, with Hashem's help, were able to reunite the city of Jerusalem. As they fought into the Old City, they made their way to the Western Wall. After so many years away, the Jews were finally able to lay their eyes on the sole remaining physical remnant of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). The emotion of the moment was overwhelming, as the religious soldiers ran to the wall, crying and praying at its side. Not understanding the significance of the ancient wall, many of the irreligious soldiers watched from the side. Suddenly, one of the irreligious soldiers burst into tears. He was crying simply because he did not understand what there was to cry about. He realized that this wall was very significant, but the fact that he did not understand its significance brought him to tears.

Towards the end of the period of the first Beit HaMikdash, the prophet Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem (Isaiah 22:1-14). He described how the people were preparing weapons, creating reservoirs, and climbing to the rooftops in preparation for battle. Rabbeinu Bachya, a classic 14th century commentator on the Torah, explains that in describing these actions, Isaiah was rebuking the people for exercising so many battle preparations, while not preparing themselves with teshuvah (repentance) and increased mitzvah observance. The only reason the enemies were able to attack was because of the Jewish people's sins. Had they rectified their transgressions through proper repentance and involvement in mitzvot, Hashem would have removed the enemy without all of the battle preparations. Conversely, by remaining steeped in their sins, even the most advanced weaponry and strategies would not protect them from a Heavenly-decreed destruction. The Jewish people were focusing on the superficial problem of the battle, while failing to attend to their sins which were the real source of the problem.

The Talmud (Yerushalmi Tractate Yoma 1:1) states that every generation in which the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt is considered to have destroyed it. Why? Because every generation since the destruction has been involved in the same sins that caused its original demise. Had the Beit HaMikdash still existed in later times, the sins of those generations would have similarly destroyed it. So every generation which promotes this atmosphere is held accountable.

Within this statement of the sages lies an important message. When confronted with concepts relating to the Temple's destruction, we often view them as a distant and unrelated phenomenon. We realize that the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, and we know that we are awaiting the arrival of the Mashiach (Messiah), but we often miss the connection between these seemingly esoteric ideas and ourselves. The Talmud is teaching us that there really is a direct connection. In every generation the Beit HaMikdash should be rebuilt, but the sins of that generation - the same sins which caused the original destruction - are preventing its reconstruction. So the destruction is not an unrelated event that took place thousands of years ago, but a continuous tragedy that occurs in every generation. It is our duty to rectify our sins in order to merit the coming of Mashiach.

The Chofetz Chaim, the saintly Torah scholar and leader at the beginning of this century, writes that the primary purpose of a fast day is not the fast itself. Rather, the purpose of a fast day is to bring us to introspect and think about teshuvah. When we realize what painful occurrences our fast is commemorating, and we recognize that those occurrences only transpired because of our sins, we will think about how we can rectify our actions. The Chofetz Chaim continues that people who don't eat on fast days, but do go on trips and involve themselves in their everyday routine, are missing the point. While refraining from eating and drinking is required regardless of our feelings, if we only fast and do not make an effort to introspect, then we have let the opportunity provided by the fast to slip right by.

Teshuvah is an essential part of every fast day, especially Tishah B'Av. On Tishah B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and we remember the tragedies that have befallen our people since that time. We must use the mood that its observance sets to focus on what the loss of the Beit HaMikdash means to us, as well as to inspire ourselves to improve our ways.

The soldier cried at the Western Wall because he did not understand what there was to be crying about. This should be our reaction as well. Two thousand years in exile has dulled our senses. We have such difficulty relating to major facets of Jewish life. Of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, only a fraction of them can be performed today without the Beit HaMikdash. Also, when we read through the Torah portions that describe the korbanot (offerings) and the glorious services that were performed in the Beit HaMikdash, we have no point of reference. Without the Beit HaMikdash we are incomplete - a major aspect of our Torah lifestyle is lacking - and we don't even feel its loss! Our reaction to this should be the same as the soldier's. When we know that we are missing so much, but can't get ourselves to feel for it - that itself is reason to cry! We should cry this Tishah B'Av because we don't understand what we should be crying about.

This Tishah B'Av let us focus on the loss that we have incurred. Let us tap into the emotions of the day - which are amplified by the kinot liturgy and the physical abstentions - to inspire ourselves to introspect. We must examine our deeds - especially those that involve our interaction with other people - and accept upon ourselves to correct those activities that need work. Then, when we return to Hashem through our teshuvah, may we be worthy of Mashiach's arrival.

In the words of the daily Tachanun prayer: Hashem, look down from the Heavens and see that we have become an object of scorn among the nations. We have been considered like sheep and led to slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten, and humiliated. But despite all this, we have not forgotten Your name. (We still remain dedicated Jews, following Your Torah and mitzvot.) Please, don't forget about us. As we mourn this Tishah B'Av, let us find ways to enhance our bond with Hashem, and dedicate ourselves to a higher level of Torah observance. Through this, may Hashem bring Mashiach speedily in our days. May we all be together next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!

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Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Forest Hills, New York.

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