Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have observed the fast of Tisha B’Av for a number of years since becoming observant, and attempted to mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s coming up again fast, this coming Saturday night and Sunday; and I’m left with a problem and don’t know if I have the time for a solution.
I understand the lack of a Temple and the Divine presence that was there, with its worship of offerings, which brought us much closer to God than we can get to today. But I always feel like… now what? What can we do, even in some small way, in the here and now to be connected to that Temple?
I feel like, if I had some way to be connected, then I could more vividly feel the loss of that which I’m connected to. But, without that, it’s really hard to relate to a building that existed so long ago…do you understand where I’m coming from?
I totally understand where you’re coming from, and believe me, you’re far from the only one who feels that way!
My recommendation to you is to consider making your focus that which our early sages instruct us is the replacement for the offerings: prayer!
The Talmud says that the three daily prayer services are in place of the daily offerings in the Temple. The morning and afternoon services correspond to the twice a day tamid offerings, brought morning and afternoon, which were considered the main staple of the entire Temple service. Although there was no specific evening offering, the remainders of the daily offering were burnt at night, and serve as the source of the evening service (which was initially not enacted as obligatory). The Talmud explains that the three patriarchs enacted the three services, and the sages later connected them to the daily offerings.
This connection to the offerings is not random; rather, it goes to the essence of what these prayer services are. The mystical sources explain that the Amidah prayer was enacted by one of the most elevated conclaves of men in Jewish history, the Men of the Great Assembly, after the end of the 70 years of Babylonian exile.
This holy group, consisting of 120 sages, among them the last prophets, used their vast knowledge and prophecy to enact the precise words of the prayer which would affect the upper, spiritual worlds in a similar way that the offerings of the Temple would. This was urgently necessary, because, as the Mishnah teaches, the Temple offerings were one of the main foundations of the existence of this world and without them the world would decay into a state of utter chaos. The prayer service, so precisely crafted, would provide a modicum of the Temple service throughout the long period of exile that the Jews were destined to be subjected to, thereby keeping the world intact.
This is the deeper understanding of the Jewish law which states that every Jew who prays the Amidah service merits to have the Shechinah, or Divine Presence, come down and rest before that Jew or Jewess. This is the source of the law that one must not traverse within four cubits (about 6 feet) before another Jew praying that service, as the Shechinah is present within those four cubits!
Like the Temple service, where the Divine Presence rested, so too every Jew who taps into that service by way of the Amidah prayer, merits to bring down that Presence (which can be felt by anyone who truly becomes sensitive to, and in tune with, the more spiritual areas of life).
This explains more profoundly the statement of the Talmud that our synagogues are called a mikdash m’at, or a “bit” of the Temple; we are holding a modicum of the Temple worship there, recreating, “a bit,” its presence.
That sheds light upon a further statement of the Talmud that the synagogues in the Diaspora are destined to be relocated to Israel in messianic times, as they have become a bit of Israel and its holiness even in the places of our exile.
One who truly focuses on and connects to the prayer service can begin to appreciate what it means to be connected to the Shechinah. At that moment will come the profound insight of how much more so would we be able to connect if we truly had a place where the Shechinah is palpably felt by all who enter! How wondrous that must have been; how sad it is that we are missing it. At that point, one can begin to feel the loss, and hence be able to mourn the lack of that place, the Temple.
May we all have an easy and meaningful fast this coming Saturday night and Sunday, and may the day of Tisha B’Av become a day of rejoicing when we will soon together witness the Temple’s rebuilding!
Dear Rabbi Fried,