Tisha B’Av תשפ

Napoleon was once passing a shul in Paris on Tisha B’Av when he heard the sounds of crying and wailing coming from within. Thinking that something terrible going on, he stepped inside to see what he could do to help. What he saw shocked him. People were sitting on the floor with candles lit reading from books and crying. He asked his advisor, “What’s going on in here? Why are these people crying and wailing?” His advisor told him, “These are Jews, and they are crying about their holy temple, which was destroyed on this day.” Napoleon responded, “What? Such an important thing happened, and I, the king, know nothing about it? Why was I not told?” 

        “The Temple was in Jerusalem, and it was destroyed over a thousand years ago!” replied his advisor. 

        “Really?” said Napoleon, “And they are still crying about it? I am sure that these people will yet see their Holy Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem. A nation that mourns their loss as if it just happened, and retains their hope for the new Temple, will surely merit to see the Temple rebuilt.” 

        Napoleon’s words, echoed a truth that our sages themselves expressed in the following statement (Taanit 30b). 

כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה ושאינו מתאבל על ירושלים אינו רואה בשמחתה                

“Whoever mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, will merit to see its rejoicing, and whoever does not mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, will not see its rejoicing.” 

        In today’s world, it is very difficult for us to truly mourn the destruction of the Holy Temples. We find it difficult to understand what there is to mourn about. We feel that we are living full Jewish lives according to the Torah. We keep Shabbat to the letter and perform the Torah’s commandments with great love and devotion, so what is missing from our Jewish life? What exactly do we need the Holy Temple for? How would Jewish life be different if the Holy Temple stood where the Mosque of Omar stands in Jerusalem? How would it be different than the Western Wall, something we go see once or twice in our lifetimes? And if a person who keeps all the Torah’s laws never went to Israel to see the Western Wall, is he not a good Jew? 

        That we find it difficult to understand what there is to mourn about shows us how far we are from appreciating what effect the Holy Temples had on Jewish life. Maybe through trying to understand what life was like when the Temples stood, we will gain an appreciation of what we are missing and will be able to sincerely feel their absence. 

        After giving the Torah on Mount Sinai, Hashem commanded the Jewish people to build the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a modular, portable, miniature sanctuary that travelled with the Jewish people and served them for 480 years, until King Solomon built the permanent structure in Jerusalem. 


In his commentary on the Torah, Nachmanides tells us that Hashem’s purpose for the Tabernacle was to have a dwelling place among the Jewish people. Since the Jewish nation was a holy nation, chosen to represent Hashem through a covenant with Him, it was appropriate that there be a sanctuary where Hashem’s presence could dwell among them.  


רמב”ן על שמות פרק כה פסוק א 

ואמר. “ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש” (שם ו), והנה הם קדושים ראוים שיהיה בהם מקדש להשרות שכינתו ביניהם ולכן צוה תחלה על דבר המשכן שיהיה לו בית בתוכם מקודש לשמו, ושם ידבר עם משה ויצוה את בני ישראל והנה עקר החפץ במשכן הוא מקום מנוחת השכינה שהוא הארון

        Nachmanides adds:

וסוד המשכן הוא, שיהיה הכבוד אשר שכן על הר סיני שוכן עליו בנסתר –

And the Tabernacle’s secret is that the presence of Hashem, which was manifest on Mount Sinai, should inconspicuously dwell over the Tabernacle. 

        When the Jewish people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem opened up the heavens for everyone to see His Heavenly Court. There could be no doubt about the reality of Hashem to anyone who stood there. The Tabernacle, and the two Holy Temples, served this very function. How was that? 


        The mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:5) tells us that ten miracles took place in the Holy Temple at all times. 

משנה מסכת אבות פרק ה 

עֲשָׂרָה נִסִּים נַעֲשׂו לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בְּבֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ. לֹא הִפִּילָה אִשָּׁה מֵרֵיחַ בְּשַׂר הַקֹּדֶשׁ, וְלֹא הִסְרִיחַ בְּשַׂר הַקֹּדֶשׁ מֵעוֹלָם, וְלֹא נִרְאָה זְבוּב בְּבֵית הַמִּטְבְּחַיִם, וְלֹא אֵרַע קֶרִי לְכֹהֵן גָּדוֹל בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים, וְלֹא כִבּוּ גְשָׁמִים אֵשׁ שֶׁל עֲצֵי הַמַּעֲרָכָה, וְלֹא נָצְחָה הָרוּחַ אֶת עַמּוּד הֶעָשָׁן, וְלֹא נִמְצָא פְסוּל בָּעֹמֶר וּבִשְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם וּבְלֶחֶם הַפָּנִים, עוֹמְדִים צְפוּפִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים רְוָחִים, וְלֹא הִזִּיק נָחָשׁ וְעַקְרָב בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם מֵעוֹלָם, וְלֹא אָמַר אָדָם לַחֲבֵרוֹ צַר לִי הַמָּקוֹם שֶׁאָלִין בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם:

(1) Never did a woman ever miscarry because of the smell of the meat roasting on the altar. (2) Never did the sacrificial meat ever spoil. (3) Never did a fly appear in the slaughter house. (4) Never did the High Priest ever become spiritually unclean on Yom Kippur (which would have disqualified him from performing the special Yom Kippur service). (5) Never did rain ever extinguish the flames of the altar. (6) Never did the wind ever disperse the smoke rising straight up from the altar. (7) Never were the Omer offering and the bread offering disqualified by becoming ritually unclean. (8) The people stood crowded together, but when it came time to bow down, everyone had room to bow. (9) Never was anyone ever injured by a snake or scorpion in Jerusalem. (10) When people came to Jerusalem for the festivals, never did anyone ever complain that he was uncomfortable because he didn’t have enough room. 

         Miracles numbers 5 & 6:

        Although the altar upon which the daily sacrifices and all personal sacrifices were brought was out of doors, and stood in the Temple courtyard and was exposed to the elements, the fire that was constantly lit to burn the sacrifices was never extinguished by the rain, no matter how hard it rained. And the smoke always travelled upwards in a single straight column, no matter how windy it was. The wind would simply not affect the column of smoke. 

        Miracle number 8:

        On Yom Kippur, there is a place in the service where all present need to bow forehead to the floor. When the people assembled in the sanctuary were standing up straight, they were tightly crowded. Yet miraculously, when it came time to bow down, everyone had sufficient room!. Additionally, although the sanctuary courtyard was very limited in space, no matter how many people came to the Holy Temple on Yom Kippur to watch the service, there was room for all of them.

        Miracle number 10:

        Along the same lines, during the three festivals, Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot, all able bodied men who owned land in Israel were obligated to visit the Holy Temple. Men from all over the country would converge on Jerusalem and stay with friends or relatives there. Yet, no one ever said, “It’s too crowded for me in Jerusalem.” Once again, space expanded to accommodate the need. 

        There was another miracle that is not listed in the Mishna because it was not  constant. That is the miracle of the Pascal offering brought on the 14th of Nissan, Passover eve. This special sacrifice had to be brought after mid-day and until sundown, around six and a half hours. Easier said than done. The Talmud reports that one year the tally  of all the sheep that were brought as sacrifices came to 1,200,000. 1.2 million sacrifices in a little less than six and a half hours comes to be 184,615 sacrifices per hour, 3077 per minute, or 51 per second! Of course there is no possible way to process 51 Pascal offerings per second. The only option is that time stood still in the Holy Temple until all that needed to get done was complete. 

       We can think of the Holy Temple as a foreign embassy. Because all countries have citizens in foreign countries who need governmental services from the mother country, embassies are created to transact that business for the mother country in the foreign land. An ambassador is sent and the embassy is considered an island of the mother country in the foreign land. Thus, being inside the embassy is like being in the mother country. If you have ever been in a foreign embassy, you may have noticed how the flag of the country is proudly displayed, the décor of the building and furniture resemble the mother country, and the language spoken is the mother country’s langauge . There is even what is called “diplomatic immunity” to the ambassador who owns the residence, because, officially, the piece of land upon which the building stands is the property of the foreign country, and not subject to the laws of the host country. 

        In the same way, the Holy Temple constituted an island of heaven on earth. Entering the Holy Temple was like entering an embassy of heaven, the place where Hashem dwells and the rules of heaven, not earth, govern. Hashem is outside of time and space. These are His creations for man in this world, but in Hashem’s world time and space don’t exist. Therefore, as many people as there were, they all had room to do whatever they needed to do, and the many sacrifices that needed to be brought all had sufficient time.

        Hence, when a person entered the Holy Temple, he entered Hashem’s world, and he felt  that he was in the presence of Hashem! This was comprable to what the Jewish people experienced at Mount Sinai. There also, they acutely experienced being in the presence of Hashem. 

        The Torah teaches us (Deuteronomy 16:16):

(טז) שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר: בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה אֶת פְּנֵי יְדֹוָד רֵיקָם

16) Three times a year all males must  appear before Hashem your God in the place that Hashem will choose, on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. You shall not see Hashem’s Face empty handed. 

        This verse commands every Jewish male who owns land in Israel to visit the Holy Temple thrice yearly, on the Festivals. He was commanded to come with a sacrifice. That is what is meant by not appearing “empty handed.” That three times a year meeting was mandetory. This would keep the connection to Sinai fresh and real for all time. For all future generations, Jews would be able to avail themselves of a dose of pure spirituality with their one-on-one with Hashem. 

       With the destruction of the Temples, we are in the dark. It is sometimes difficult to see Hashem through all the difficulties and hardships. 

        King David himself expressed in a Psalm how at one point in his life he was beginning to have doubts about Hashem. He says (73:2):

 ב) וַאֲנִי כִּמְעַט נָטָיוּ רַגְלָי כְּאַיִן שֻׁפְּכוּ אֲשֻׁרָי

2) As for me, my feet almost veered off the path, in no time, my legs almost left Your path.

        King David goes on to explain the issues that confronted him and shook his faith in Hashem. Evil people prosper and have no worries. They go through life and everything works out perfectly for them. King David uses a full 14 verses to describe how it seems that there is no Judge and no judgment for the evil people in the world. What saved King David? He tells us in verse 17:

יז) עַד אָבוֹא אֶל מִקְדְּשֵׁי אֵל אָבִינָה לְאַחֲרִיתָם

17)  Until I come to the Sanctuary of Hashem, and I think about their end.   

        What was it about the sanctuary that restored King David’s faith? He walked into the Tabernacle, Hashem’s throne room, so to speak, where Hashem can be clearly seen. Seeing the ten miracles that constantly went on there, revealed Hashem’s presence. Because of the intense holiness there, when one entered the sanctuary, Hashem’s presence overwhelmed him, and he could have no doubt about Hashem’s reality. 

        Unfortunately, there are also those who dismiss the existence of Hashem for similar reasons to King David. They see evil people prosper and righteous people suffer, and the only conclusion they can come to is that there is no God. Many others are just so caught up in their day to day existence trying to make ends meet, or trying to enjoy the pleasures of life, that they just never think about the existence of Hashem. “Don’t disturb me with that trivial issue, I am busy.”

        Because we do not have the service of the Holy Temple, the prospect of a Godless world seems feasible. But when the Holy Temple would be in full service, it would be impossible to deny the existence of Hashem.  In the times of King Solomon, the nations of the world would come to see the Holy Temple. There was no question whether Hashem existed. It was evident in the Holy Temple, and it was evident from the Jewish people. The holy, elevated lifestyle that they lived served as an example of the appropriate way Hashem recommends one to live their life. 

        We mourn for the Holy Temples because by focusing on what we have lost, we should yearn and aspire to have the Holy Temple back so we can once again live the holy life that our forefathers lived when the Holy Temples stood. The mourning is designed to awaken within us a thirst for having Hashem dwell among us again so that we can strengthen and grow our relationship with Him.

        The understanding of what we are missing is the first step in rebuilding the Third Holy Temple. If we do not know what we are missing and what we want, how can we ask for it? This is the meaning of the words of our Sages, “Whoever mourns the destruction of Jerusalem will merit to see its rejoicing, and whoever does not mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, will not see its rejoicing.” When we sincerely mourn the loss of the Holy Temples, appreciating what we are yearning for, we have already added a brick to the Third Holy Temple, may it be built speedily in our times!

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