Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tisha B'Av - A Temple Visualization - Rav Zvi Leshem


A Temple Visualization
Rav Zvi Leshem

(Note: This is a visualization meditation on the Temple, to make the idea of the Holy Temple and its destruction more real to the reader.)

You are walking through Jerusalem's Old City on Shavuot with your family, heading for the Beit Hamikdash. You are taking part in Aliyah Laregel, a pilgrimage to the Temple. As you get closer to the Temple Mount, more and more people appear, coming from all directions. There becomes a veritable stream, and then a great river of people, including all sorts of Jews from all over Israel, and even some from abroad. Here and there are also gentiles, on their way to witness the great holiness. You get closer and closer, finally going up one of the ramps, and through one of the gates. The beauty and splendor of the Mikdash are overwhelming. It is the most majestic place in the world, and the presence of the Shechinah is palpable. Thousands, tens of thousands of Jews davening to Hashem, now inside the courtyard, surround you. The Kohanim are doing the Avodah, the Temple Service, and the Levi'im are singing Shir Hamaalot, the songs of ascent. All would appear to be perfect.

Yet, deep inside you know that all is not well. There are too many divisions, too much factionalism, and even violence within the Jewish nation. Am Yisrael is divided into groups, each claiming that they follow the only true path to serving God. Even you sometimes catch yourself hating those with whom you differ. But why? After all, they are your fellow Jews, and they also believe in the Torah, keep the mitzvot, and serve Hashem. They are different, just different, that's all. If things continue this way, what will happen? Where is it all leading? It can't be a good thing…

After months of siege, you are tired, hungry, and depressed. Will it ever end? Will the Romans leave? Will we ever stop fighting among ourselves? The Roman battering rams and catapults incessantly bang and crash, and your head feels like it will explode from the noise. And then, Roman soldiers are actually in the city. They kill and destroy everything in their wake. You watch from the small window of your hiding place, terrified. Death is everywhere. Corpses litter the streets. The stench is overpowering.

Tisha B'Av arrives. You are well aware of its history. On this day, the Spies and Am Yisrael cried for no reason, disdaining Eretz Yisrael. On this day, some 600 years ago, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple, and the Jews were exiled to Babylonia. What does this day hold in store for us now? Furtive glances toward the Temple Mount tell you that the Mikdash still stands. The enemy would surely not dare to touch it!

Toward afternoon, thick smoke fills the air. Glancing from your hidden window your worst fears are confirmed - the Temple is burning! Great flames fill the air and clouds of thick black smoke continue billowing upwards. Now all is truly lost, and you are filled with despair. Hashem must really hate us to allow such a thing to happen - to destroy His own house! Longing for the greatness that was once the Mikdash, for the beauty of Aliyah Laregel, you are filled with thoughts of teshuvah. But it is too late. What good can it do, now that the Temple is in flames?

Before long you are discovered, led outside into the courtyard and bound with heavy chains. On top of everything else you will be led into exile and sold as a slave to the heathens in Rome. If only we had obeyed Hashem! If only we had loved each other! If only we had not hated! Now all is lost, our land, our Temple, and each other. Worst of all, it seems as though we have lost God Himself, lost the Shechinah! Never has She seemed so utterly remote, so inaccessible! The situation is completely hopeless, not only physically, but also spiritually. All of this is rushing through your brain as the endless march to Rome begins. …

Although your perspective is limited to what your eyes can perceive, there is another, non-physical reality as well. As you continue the obliviousness of the march, your body aches, and yet paradoxically your mind is free, your neshamah is liberated from your body. At this stage you no longer feel your body, and your neshamah soars above, viewing that which is hidden to your eyes. Instinctively you fly back to Jerusalem, back to the Mikdash. The city is completely devastated - nothing is standing! You fly up to the Temple Mount, and you find that all is in ruins. And yet, as you approach the place where the Temple once stood, your neshamah enters a different reality. You glide toward the Holy of Holies, filled with trepidation. There is no doubt that the kruvim, representing Hashem and Am Yisrael, will be facing away from each other, the final sign that we violated Hashem's will. This will be the final sign that Hashem no longer desires His once-Holy people. That will be the most terrible sight of all, the final confirmation that all is truly lost, that there is no hope.

You now enter through the Parochet. And what do you see? The two great kruvim still stand on top of the Aron, angelic, and yet human. One, in the form of a man, symbolizes Hashem. The other, a woman, symbolizes Am Yisrael, symbolizes you. They are not facing apart. They are facing each other. And yet, there are not only facing each other, they are touching each other. Filled with love, they caress each other; they embrace each other. Hashem and Am Yisrael still love each other. They desire and yearn for each other. You love Hashem, and you know, you actually feel, that Hashem loves you as well. You are now filled with warmth, with a feeling of contentment and well-being as you watch the sensuous embrace of the kruvim. Slowly, you make your way forward to the female kruv, to the kruv of Am Yisrael. You are part of that kruv, and you enter Her reality, you merge with Her. You are no longer watching the embrace; you are part of it. You can feel Hashem's actual presence that surrounds you, and feel His breath. Your neshamah is part of His breath. Your individuality melts away as you are subsumed in the Divine Presence. Hashem loves you. You feel His love enveloping you, protecting you. This is the true peace you have yearned for all your life. Now you can let go. Let go of all the hatred. Let go of all jealousy and competition. Let go of all the physical desires. There is only Hashem.

No comments: