The Loss of Our Unifying Temple



As we discussed in the previous letters, within the Temple was the Torah, and at each of three pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Shavuos, and Succos – the Tribes of Israel ascended to the Temple.  The pilgrimages to the Temple fostered a sense of unity among the diverse tribes, as it is written: “The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together; for there the tribes ascended, the tribes of God” (Psalm 122:3,4).


Dear Friends,


The Unifying Temple enabled us to experience the Shechinah – the Divine Presence – in our midst, as Hashem, the Compassionate One, proclaimed:


 “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:9)


Targum Onkelos, the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates the above verse in the following manner: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will place My Shechinah among them.”


The Temple was the dwelling place of the Shechinah, and our tradition refers to the destruction of the Temple as the exile of the Shechinah. The process of the slow withdrawal of the Shechinah – in ten stages – is described in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 31a). Rashi, in his commentary on this passage from the Talmud, explains that the Shechinah departed from the Temple slowly and reluctantly in the hope that the people would return to the Divine path.


The Talmud states that the main sins which caused the destruction of the First Temple were “idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed” (Yoma 9b). What is the main cause for the destruction of the Second Temple and the long, ongoing exile of our people? The Talmud explains:
”We know that in the Second Temple era they involved themselves with Torah, mitzvos, and acts of lovingkindness – why then was it destroyed? Because there was sinas chinam – unwarranted hatred – among them.” Iibid).


 Our tradition teaches that a contributing factor to the hatred which led to the destruction of the Temple and our exile from the Shechinah was loshon hara – speaking about others in a derogatory or harmful way. In fact, the Midrash teaches that loshon hara prevents the building of the Temple, and it also cites the following teaching of Rabbi Mona: “Whoever speaks loshon hara causes the Shechinah to ascend from this lower world.” (Devarim Rabbah 5:10)  As a result, we no longer experience the full presence of the Shechinah on this earth.

Sinas Chinam and loshon hara have no place within the sacred land which serves as the home of the Holy Temple. This is because a major goal of Jerusalem and the pilgrimage of all the tribes to her Holy Temple was to foster love and unity among the People of Israel through renewing their bond with the Torah – the Divine Teaching. The Jerusalem Talmud explains that the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem on the Festivals caused a spiritual elevation which inspired all the people to develop a greater commitment to the mitzvos of the Torah; thus, they all became chaverim - spiritual comrades (Chagigah 3:6). 
The Mishnah teaches that our ancestors experienced ten miracles in the Holy Temple. The tenth miracle was that during the pilgrimage festivals, when all the tribes flocked to the Temple, no one said to his friend, “The space is insufficient for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem” (Pirkei Avos 5:7). In what way was this a miracle? Did the city miraculously expand to accommodate all the pilgrims? The Chasam Sofer, a leading sage of the early 19th century, explains that this was the miracle of love! The great love that the people had for each other during the sacred pilgrimage enabled each person to find a place to stay, and even if many people were sharing a house, no one felt crowded. 
When we mourn for the Temple, we are also mourning the loss of that powerful sense of love and unity. In order to have a deeper understanding of this loss, we need to remember that a goal of the Temple is to increase love and unity among our people. When, due to the rise of unwarranted hatred, the Temple was no longer bringing us to this unifying goal, the Temple was taken from us. And if the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, then this indicates that the sin of unwarranted hatred is still with us! The Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, elaborates on this idea:

 “Well known is the statement of our Sages that the generation at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple performed mitzvos and studied Torah, but the Temple was destroyed through the sins of sinas chinam  and lashon hara. The early commentators have written that if these sins had the power to cause a standing edifice to be destroyed, then certainly their continued presence will prevent a new Temple from being built. This fact is alluded to in the statement of our sages that any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is considered as if it had destroyed it (Talmud Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). We therefore have no choice but to strengthen our efforts to correct these sins, to be careful not to stumble through them, for how long shall we remain in exile?” (Shmiras Haloshon 2:7)
Yes, there is an ongoing sin of unwarranted hatred; however, don’t people usually feel that “their” hatred is warranted? In fact, if you would have asked someone living during the period of the Second Temple why he hated his neighbor in his heart, he would have come up with various reasons to justify himself. From his perspective, his hatred was warranted!

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, a noted 20th century sage who taught “Mussar” – Torah Ethics – responds to this rationalization by reminding us of the following truth: From the perspective of the Torah, most hatred is unwarranted! According to the Torah, our petty prejudices, arrogance, judgmental attitude, jealousy, resentment, anger, holding grudges, and desire for revenge are not valid reasons for hating others. Rabbi Lopian explains that the mistake of the people of the Second Temple period was that they failed to investigate whether their hatred was permitted according to Torah – the Divine wisdom. Had they done the proper spiritual study, they would have discovered that their hatred was indeed unwarranted. (Rabbi Lopian’s teachings are cited in “Consulting the Wise” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.)


Those involved with natural healing know that the body releases toxins just before the final healing. So too, before the arrival of the messianic age, the last remaining toxins of strife and hatred are surfacing so that our people and the entire world can experience complete healing and renewal. We therefore need to ensure that we are part of the solution and not the problem. As the Chofetz Chaim explains: “The coming of Moshiach – the Messiah – is in our hands.” And he cites the teaching from Zohar Chadash (Parshas Noach 23:3) which states that a single congregation can merit to bring about the Final Redemption by internalizing the quality of shalom in the desired way. The Chofetz Chaim adds: “It is impossible to merit the quality of shalom without first being careful to avoid the sin of sinas chinam and loshon hora. Whoever will strive to fix  these sins will have a share in the building of the future Temple.” (Shmiras Haloshon  7)


Sinas chinam and loshon hara among the members of our people are indications of a lack of sensitive concern and respect for others. This arrogant and selfish attitude is the cause of our ongoing exile. The journey out of exile therefore begins with a renewal of sensitive concern and respect for all the members of our suffering people. In this spirit, we chant the following verse regarding the shalom of Jerusalem:


“For the sake of my brethren and companions I shall speak of shalom in your midst. For the sake of the House of Hashem, our God, I will pray for your good.” (Psalm 122:8,9)


“For the sake of my brethren and companions” – Each  member of Israel in exile is concerned about the shalom of Jerusalem not just for themselves, but for the sake of all their brethren and companions – all the People of Israel. (Commentaries of Radak and Metzudas David)


Much Shalom,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


 Related Teachings:


1. Although the Shechinah is in exile, there are holy places where the hidden Shechinah is more revealed. For example, Rabbi Acha said, “The Shechinah will never move from the Western Wall” (Exodus Rabbah 2:2).


2. There are biblical references which refer to the rebuilding of the Temple, the ingathering of the exiles, and the full redemption as Hashem dwelling once again in the midst of Jerusalem. For an example, see Zechariah 8:2 and the ancient Aramaic translation and commentary, Targun Yonasan, which explains that this future dwelling refers to the return of the Shechinah. According to our tradition, we do not “study” these and other verses of comfort on Tisha B’Av. We do, however, publicly chant on Tisha B’Av afternoon – during the afternoon service – the prophecy of comfort which is found in Isaiah 55:6-56:8.


3. “For the sake of my brethren and companions” – As we mentioned in the previous letter, Rabbi Hirsch finds in this verse another level of meaning. He writes:


“May the fulfillment of this wish benefit all those who would join Israel as brethren and companions. And in the salvation that will blossom forth for Jerusalem, may that ideal be perfected at long last which had received its first foundation with the erection of the House of Hashem on Mount Moriah in the midst of Jerusalem for the future of Israel and of humankind.”


Rabbi Hirsch then refers to the comforting verses of Isaiah 2:2-4 which describe the pilgrimage of the peoples to Jerusalem and the universal shalom which will result from this pilgrimage.

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