The tragic day of Tisha B’Av is the day when the first and second Botei Mikdosh were destroyed. It serves as the day to mourn all the misfortunes that have befallen the holy nation of Klal Yisroel. To properly come to grips with the meaning of our loss that we suffered initially on this day, we first must appreciate what we originally had that, because of our actions, was taken from us. The key to this most profound point lies with what the Bais Hamikdosh means to the Bnei Yisroel and its role in Hashem’s briah.
The posuk that begins Megillas Eicha, Yirmiyahu’s lament upon the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh, says, “Eicha yoshvah vodod – O how she (Yerushalayim) sits in solitude.” Yirmiyahu is revealing to us that the bond that had existed was gone. The city of Yerushalayim, the dwelling place of the Bnei Yisroel and their main makom avodah, was plunged into solitude and was all alone.
The posuk in Tehillim (123:1-3) says, “Shir Hamaalos… A song of ascents, by Dovid, I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem.’ Our feet stood firm within your gates, Yerushalayim. Yerushalayim habenuyah, the built Yerushalayim, k’ihr shechubrah lo yachdov, is like a city that is united together.” Chazal in Medrash Tanchuma (Pekudei 1) reveal that the Bais Hamikdosh on earth – in Yerushalayim – parallels the Bais Hamikdosh of above, and thus the city is, in a sense, mechuber and connected to above as well. Here lies the essence and core of the Bais Hamikdosh that stood in Yerushalayim.
The posuk in Sefer Yeshayah (1:21) says, “Eicha.. How has the kiryah ne’emana, the faithful city (of Yerushalayim), become a zonah, an immoral woman.” The novi used the word ne’emanah, a word the Torah utilizes when describing Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions upon the mountain when the Bnei Yisroel waged war against the evil nation of Amaleik. The posuk in Parshas Beshalach (17:12) says, “Moshe’s hands grew heavy, so they took and placed a stone under him, and he sat upon it, and Aharon and Chur supported his hands, one on this side and one on that side, vayehi yodov emunim, and he remained with his hands faithful (in tefillah) until sunset.” The Targum explains that the word “emunim” is defined as “preeson,” meaning that his hands were physically extended upward in prayer.
The word emunah, which is defined as belief, is based upon this idea. When one believes in Hashem, he recognizes that the Source of his existence is based in Heaven with Hashem. Thus, when Moshe prayed, he recognized that there lies the Source of the Bnei Yisroel’s victory over Amaleik and physically extended his hands upward, signifying that all that exists results from the ratzon of Hashem above. The Sefas Emes explains that here lies the key to understanding the term describing Yerushalayim as the “kiryah ne’emanah.”
The kedusha of the Bais Hamikdosh in the city of Yerushalayim is based on the fact that it is “ne’emanah,” connected and extended to the Bais Hamikdosh above. This enabled the ultimate bond, where mortal man could in some sense connect with Hashem above. Many aspects of Klal Yisroel’s avodah are based upon this point. The Mishnah in Maseches Sanhedrin (36b) teaches us that the Sanhedrin, the Jewish courts, both the one composed of seventy judges as well as the one of twenty-three, were set in a semi-circle. What they were doing on earth represented the earthly expression of the ratzon Hashem above, and thus they were seated in just such a fashion to reflect this most profound point. They were only half of the total equation, with the other half residing above.
The spiritual greatness of Klal Yisroel was a function of this bond, and it was the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh that represented the severing of that connection. In Lashon Hakodesh, the word for connection is chibur, spelled ches, bais, reish. The undoing of that bond lies in the same letters, but in a different order. The destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh is referred to as the churban, a word possessing the letters ches, reish and bais as its shoresh. Perhaps the meaning of this is to reveal that even that which seemingly reflects the destruction of a bond only represents the bond being placed within a more complicated system, but the bond continues to exist.
The Gemara in Maseches Yoma (54b) reveals an utterly amazing point. Reish Lakish said that when the Babylonians who destroyed the first Bais Hamikdosh entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim, they found the keruvim “me’urim zeh b’zeh,” enveloped in each other. The keruvim stood atop the kapores, the covering of the Aron that was present in the Mishkon that Moshe built, but were separate standing golden forms during the first Bais Hamikdosh. The posuk in Megillas Eicha (1:8) which states, “All who once respected her demeaned her, for they have seen here disgrace,” refers to the words of embarrassment that the goyim heaped upon the holiest elements of the world, the Aron and the Kodesh Hakodoshim. The goyim claimed that what they saw represented lust and was not a function of any form of spirituality and holiness.
The Sefas Emes is bothered by a question. The Gemara previously quoted in Maseches Yoma teaches us that the relationship of the Bnei Yisroel with Hashem was reflected through the physical placement of the keruvim. When the Bnei Yisroel were properly serving Hashem, the keruvim were facing each other. When they weren’t, the keruvim, in the sense that one represented Hashem and one the Bnei Yisroel, were miraculously turned away from each other. How can it be that at the moment of churban, when theoretically the chibur was dissolved, the keruvim were embracing?
Here lies the true essence of the ahavah Hashem has for His beloved nation.
Specifically at the exact moment of churban, Hashem was revealing His overwhelming and everlasting love for Klal Yisroel. Instead of chalilah destroying the nation, He chose to destroy the Bais Hamikdosh, which was the vehicle to elevate the nation instead. The building that was once attached to Heaven was committed to the existence of an unattached and empty shell through the sins of the Bnei Yisroel. As Chazal reveal, it is true that the Babylonians destroyed a building, but it was as if “kimche techinah techinas,” they ground up ground-up flour. Because of the negative actions of the Bnei Yisroel, the building was as if it was destroyed, and thus the goyim were able to destroy an already destroyed building. However, by destroying the building He loved, Hashem enabled the continued existence of Klal Yisroel, the nation that He loved even more. This represents the depth of the connection that we are zoche to have with Hashem.
What He had to do to His beloved Bnei Yisroel was in order to “right” them and enable the relationship to be complete once again. He punished us and brought what we consider tragedies not chalilah to destroy or banish us from being His Nation, but rather to cleanse and fix, to reinstate the bond once again, for in the destruction of a connection lies the seeds of its rebuilding.
Rabbi Rapps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.