Friday, July 25, 2008

Remembering the Churban Beis HaMikdash - Part 2 - Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Remembering the Churban Beis HaMikdash

Torah Insights for Enabling Us to Feel the Loss and Yearn for the Rebuilding
of the Beis HaMikdash


Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Reprinted from the booklet with permission by the author.

Introduction Part two – continued

Rav Yaakov Emden writes, “If we would only be guilty for this one sin of not sufficiently mourning the churban, it would be enough of a reason for lengthening our galus. Especially on the sorrowful day of Tisha B’av, how many of us mourn and sigh from the depths of our hearts over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the desolation of our land? How many tears are shed over these tragedies? Not to mention the rest of the year, when the churban is neither remembered nor spoken about. It doesn’t even enter our minds, and we feel as if it were a mere coincidence!” (Siddur Bais Yaakov, Laws of Tisha B’Av, 6:7). If these words were written over 200 years ago, what is left to say about the situation today?
Why is this indifference causing the lengthy galus? Perhaps because mourning over the churban shows an appreciation of the enormity of our loss, demonstrating a yearning for the final redemption. The degree of our yearning is proportionate to how much we actually feel the mourning. It shows Hashem that we have not severed our spiritual ties with Him, even after 2,000 years in galus living among the gentiles. Hashem says, “If My children desire a closeness with Me, then they are truly deserving that My Divine Presence rest among them and are worthy of having the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt.” If, however, we fail to properly mourn the churban, in effect we are actually saying, “We don’t consider the presence of the Beis Hamikdash and the Shechina of great importance, and are content with our present situation.” Then, chalila, Hashem says (mida keneged mida), “If My Children do not appreciate the importance of My Divine Presence in their midst, then they are still undeserving of having the Beis Hamikdash among them.” (In fact, Rav Chaim Volozhin writes that if we would feel the tzar haShechina – the pain and grief that Hashem feels because we no longer have the Beis Hamikdash – we would already merit the redemption (Quoted in Siddur HaGra, preface to Tefillas Rosh Hashana).

The requirement of remembering and feeling the churban applies even during our times of rejoicing, thus we have the halachos of placing ashes on a chasan’s head before the chuppa, breaking a vessel at a tanayim and chuppa, and restrictions on a bride’s headpiece (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 561:2-4). Rav Yaakov Emden attributes unsuccessful marriages to the laxity of observing these halachos (op. cit. #7).

Rav Shlomo Brevda tells a story that vividly exemplifies this feeling. There once was a wretched widow who never had a truly happy day in her life. Finally, the time comes to marry off her only daughter. All her friends and family come to the wedding to share in her first simcha. While they are all standing under the chuppa awaiting this momentous and joyous event, one person is crying uncontrollably – the bride’s mother.

“Why are you so upset?” asks her daughter. “This should be one of the most joyful days of your life.”

The mother replies, “My dear, I am extremely happy, as this is the first real nachas I’ve had in my life. However, I just remembered that Daddy is not here with us. We are alone without him, and this thought overrides my happiness. This is why I am crying.”

Rav Brevda comments that at every simcha we make in our lifetime, we have to remind ourselves that our Father is no longer with us. The Shechina has left us and will have no resting place until the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt.

One of the reasons for our difficulty and indifference to feeling the churban can be explained by the following story. A Western tourist who was visiting Communist Russia was falsely accused of spying and sent indefinitely to Siberia. For many years he languishes, awakening each morning at 5 a.m. to eat stale bread and cold soup, then slaving at a work camp the entire day. He constantly yearns for the luxuries of his life back home. Eventually, he marries and has a child, who grows up with the same routine – awaken at 5, work all day, eat stale bread and soup. But this child will likely miss nothing, since he has never seen the Western world and is unaware of another lifestyle. Only his father, who remembers the good old days, is suffering. So, too, is our situation. Like the child who grew up in Siberia, we grew up in a world without a Beis Hamikdash. We can’t perceive what it means to feel Hashem’s Presence in the world, unlike the Jews who lived during the churban and understood and felt what this meant (cf Mishnas Rebbi Aharon ibid.).
Today we are so far removed from the Beis Hamikdash that, in effect, we are “still in Siberia.” Nevertheless, it is our duty to take practical steps that can retrieve this distant concept and make it a reality so that we can properly relate to and mourn the churban.

The parts of this and the following artcile will focus on three major concepts mentioned in the kinos:

1. The destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and galus Hashechina – the exile of God’s presence
2. The persecutions, afflictions and carnage of the Jewish nation during the churban
3. Anticipating Moshiach’s arrival.


Since the long galus of almost 2,000 years seems to make these topics a thing of the past, simply reading about them is insufficient to arouse our emotions. Therefore, the most effective method that can be used to conceptualize these ideas and generate our feelings (regesh) toward them is to use our imagination. (Indeed, the Rambam writes that man was created to function through his imagination. Moreh Nevuchim, quoted in Yalkut Lekach Tov, Yomim Nora’im, Vol. 1, pg. 104.) The Chasam Sofer suggests that we should imagine being present at the destruction and witnessing the atrocities that took place then, just as we imagine the exodus from Egypt during the Pesach seder. (Drashos Chasam Sofer, Drush Lezayin Av, pp. 83-4)


To understand the true meaning of the churban Beis Hamikdash and galus Hashechina, we should ask ourselves two questions:

1. How would our daily lives be different if Hashem’s Presence were on earth again?
2. What would the world be like if we could have a direct and close relationship with the Almighty whenever we needed it?

If we had the proper answers to these questions, our desire for rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash would be real, deep and heartfelt. However, many people reply, “restoration of the avodas hakorbanos (sacrificial services to atone for our sins), a life of peace and tranquility in Eretz Yisrael for the entire Jewish nation and the recognition of Hashem as the Supreme Ruler of the world by all of mankind.” Although these are valid reasons to desire the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, nevertheless they only represent the “body,” the outer surface, and not the “neshama,” the inner and more profound meaning and purpose, of the Beis Hamikdash. It is beyond the scope of this booklet to mention all the benefits we derived during the time the Beis Hamikdash existed. However, these few are enough to give us a glimpse of how our nation lived during that time.

How would our lives be affected if the Beis Hamikdash would be standing today? The Chinuch (Mitzva #95) writes that “The Beis Hamikdash was the epitome of holiness and purity in this world, which was created to attain self-perfection. This holiness and purity permeated all those entering it, purifying their thoughts, directing their hearts toward avodas Hashem and giving them the ability to cling to the Divine intelligence.” As a result of this connection, our ability to acquire wisdom was greatly increased and enabled Jews to reach the potential for which they were striving. In addition, Tosafos (Bava Basra 21a, s.v. Ki) writes that witnessing the kedusha and the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash inspired a person to have yiras shamayim and learn Torah. This is a possible explanation why Jerusalem was the center of Jewish scholarship.

The re-occurring miracles prevalent in the Beis Hamikdosh (some happening daily) were a source of tremendous spiritual inspiration for our nation (cf Pirkei Avos, ch. 5; Avos D’Rav Nasan, ch. 35.) Rashi explains that when the Jewish nation entered the Beis HaMikdashduring a yom tov (aliyas ha'regel), it was so crowded that the people had to press on each other in order to fit. But when they prostrated themselves in prayer, two miracles occurred: not only was there room for them to prostrate, but when they did, ample space of four amos (approximately 6-8 feet) was provided for each person (Yoma 21a).

Anyone who experienced such a dual miracle even once would certainly be inspired for a lifetime – but this occurred throughout the year! In addition, on a daily basis, a part of the Beis Hamikdash floor literally devoured certain parts of the bird offerings, ashes from the mizbayach (altar) and certain earthenware vessels that became unfit for use. Imagine, anyone could enter at any time and witness these miracles!

The korbanos also served as means for attaining spiritual perfection and closeness to Hashem. The variety of korbanos that each individual offered completely cleansed his soul from any blemish of an aveira (Commentary of the Gra, Shir Hashirim 1:16).

There were many other sources of inspiration during the time of the Beis Hamikdash. To name a few, the Jews enjoyed the fruitfulness of a special blessing on the earth’s produce, our tefillos were answered more readily32 and, during the first Beis Hamikdash, we experienced a special tranquility from the gentile nations. (Sotah 48a; Brachos 32b, as explained by the Steipler Rav in Chayei Olam, part 1 ch.28;Rabbeinu Yonah, commentary to Brachos, 7b s.v. kol [p. 4a in the Rif])

We can imagine the peace of mind that the Jewish nation experienced during this time. We had complete atonement form their aveiros, we didn’t worry about earning a livelihood or being subjected to hostility from the gentiles, and our tefillos were always answered. It is no wonder that the people of this era attained such tremendous spiritual perfection!

Prophecy was also widespread during the era of the first Beis Hamikdash. Chazal write that there were 1,200,000 prophets amongst us – approximately 3,000 each year!(Megillah 14a). To receive prophecy, one had to be exceedingly wise, knowledgeable of Torah, perfect in midos and in complete control of his thoughts and yetzer hara (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 7:1). Imagine the impact on our daily lives amid so many tzadikim, who were constantly communicating with Hashem on such a high level. Each person had his own “personal” navi who was always available to give proper guidance to solve his problems and gain perfection. Even if a person were ill, he would go to his navi instead of a doctor. The navi would tell him what sin he had committed and how he could rectify the situation. Can you imagine being confident that the advice you were receiving was directly from Hashem? Can you imagine being understood at the deepest level of your soul and being told what your tikun ha’neshama is? With this intensive amount of spirituality that the Beis Hamikdash brought into the world, each individual had a much greater opportunity to come closer to Hashem and reach the aims of his existence on earth.

It was during that epoch that the Jewish nation reached the highest levels that humans could attain. Rav Shlomo Wolbe said that the Beis HaMikdash was the only place that Hashem’s glory was clearly revealed. A person would enter the Bais Hamikdosh laden with transgression, and depart completely cleansed, feeling spiritually uplifted, and with a sense of holiness. Hashem’s presence was almost tangible.

The destruction brought an end to the Divine presence on this earth, all revealed miracles, special blessings, tranquility of Eretz Yisrael and prophecy, creating a tremendous spiritual void in the world and in our lives. And since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, we have been unable to fulfill more than half of the Taryag Mitzvos (cf Sefer Mitzvos Hakatzer of the Chofetz Chaim). The current spiritual level of the Jewish nation is the lowest in our history and is not improving. The vast majority of Jews are non-observant, and in fact many of them know nothing about Judaism except that they are Jewish. Intermarriage is rampant, and we are constantly battling secular Jews to preserve the drop of kedusha that still remains in our nation. (Indeed, some term this period a spiritual Holocaust.) The Gra compares our galus to a body without a soul; the longer it remains in the grave, the more it decays (End of Safra Detzniyusa).

The only single force that can stop us from further spiraling downward is the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. This is what we should be eagerly anticipating.

(Picture courtesy of Haftatara Man)

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Celia said...

This photograph of Churban Bais Hamikdash Painting is phenomenal. I'd like to use it for something and googled R' Morgenstern but can't seem to find his book. Or artist of this painting to ask R'shus. can you help with info?

S Hidalgo said...

Saludos, visiten mi pagina, he puesto imagenes del templo Beit Hamikdash

oldharsa. said...

Just the info i needed! Thanks so much Rabbi M. for writing all this! Where can i find 'Part 1'?