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THAT EXTRA MILE

by Rabbi Shmuel Weiss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"He who does not rebuild the Temple in his generation is regarded as if he himself had destroyed it." So says the Talmud, indicating clearly that we are not to sit back and be passive, waiting helplessly for the final redemption to be imposed upon us. Rather, we are to be the protagonists who make it happen.

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"He who does not rebuild the Temple in his generation is regarded as if he himself had destroyed it." So says the Talmud, indicating clearly that we are not to sit back and be passive, waiting helplessly for the final redemption to be imposed upon us. Rather, we are to be the protagonists who make it happen.

But, in all fairness, this is a very tall order. How can we be expected to accomplish that which our illustrious ancestors could not? I suggest to you that Temple-rebuilding is actually a very small step! Let me explain.

The Talmud, in various sources (see Tractates Yoma, Shabbat, etc.), outlines the various reasons why Jerusalem was destroyed and for our subsequent observance of the festival of Tishah B'Av. All of these reasons emanate from our own shortcomings: We were violent, we practiced sinat chinam (baseless hatred), we neglected to educate our children properly, we did not honor our sages, and so on.

But then the Talmud (Tractate Baba Metzia) makes a most confounding statement: "Rav Yochanan said that Jerusalem was destroyed because the people did not go above and beyond the letter of the law." What does this mean? What about all the other myriad reasons for the destruction? Did Rav Yochanan simply forget these?

The deeper meaning is this: All the other reasons for our exile were true & valid. But had we been the kind of people who went the extra mile, who did more than the law required, then Hashem would have acted in kind.

He, too, would have gone beyond the strict letter of the law, and He would have spared us despite our having deserved punishment. But tragically, since we were rigid, inflexible, prepared to give only what was absolutely required of us and no more, G-d repaid us measure for measure. He, too, exacted from us that which was warranted by the strict application of the law, and the fate of Jerusalem was sealed.

Observing Judaism is vital. But at times mere observance is insufficient. To cause Hashem to redeem us, we have to go beyond our obligations, doing more than is expected of us, acting in an exemplary fashion that far exceeds the minimal standards.

Recently, I observed a man asking for charity at the synagogue door. Someone coming late remarked that he was in a rush, and would give him some money after services. But, by the time the prayers ended, the poor man had already left. The man began to ask where the poor person had gone, and then ran several blocks after him to give the charity. It is those little steps - in pursuit of loving kindness beyond the letter of the law - which are the steps needed to rebuild our holy Temple.

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Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana'ana, Israel. He is also the author of Shammas: Stories of the Jewish Experience.

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