2000 YEARS AND COUNTING
In this week's second Torah portion, Masei, the instruction is given to delegate "cities of refuge" to which a person who accidentally killed someone can flee from pursuers and avengers.
In this week's second Torah portion, Masei, 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 pertaining to Galut in a portion which is read during this period in the Jewish calendar, a sad time for the Jewish people known as "the three weeks." These three weeks began a week from last Sunday, on Shiva Asar B'Tammuz, when the walls around Jerusalem were breached by our enemies, and will culminate next Sunday 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.
To be honest, 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 -- just think about the Holocaust, or that we are still threatened by evil terrorists who imperil our very existence -- 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, it is something much more meaningful and serious. 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 this, we can use the example of a king who 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, experiences 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 the ability to get back 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 automatically be no more trouble.
So, 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 Galut. 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 our righteous 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 to long in Galut. We must be allowed to come home.
Rabbi Yossi Lew is the program director at Chabad of Georgia, and a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefilah. Beginning this fall, Rabbi Lew will be teaching middle school at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy.
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