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Rebuilding in the Wake of Destruction

Just shy of two years ago, I had the incredible privilege to go up on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is a focal point in Judaism, and ever since Solomon built the first Temple there, has been considered a holy and deeply significant place. Personally, I had always felt drawn to it, and a few days before my wedding in 2017, I finally had the chance to go up.

The experience was life-altering for me. I remember a quiet gravity possessing our group as we walked up the ramp and stepped onto the weathered, dew-wet stone above. Many of the group went barefoot, so as to eliminate any barriers between themselves and the holy place we walked upon.

Security guards flanked us on every side, watching us like hawks.

I moved as though in a dream. Olive trees swayed lightly in the early morning cool as our group walked in a long, slow loop around the Mount, shepherded by the guards who ensured that we remained at least fifty meters away from the Al Aqsa plaza. I couldn’t believe that I was standing in the place where two Temples had once stood, where Biblical Jews had worshipped and congregated. This was the place where God’s Presence was said to have rested. How could all of that be gone now?

Our Sages explain that the destruction of the Second Temple was God’s punishment of the Jews for the baseless hatred that had become so prevalent within the Jewish nation.  Baseless hatred springs from nothing, and feeds continually on itself. There does not need to be a reason for it, and therein lies its danger. A person who allows himself to be sucked into baseless hatred, loses hope and destroys relationships. Hatred is a black hole of anger and envy, and can lead, as we learned, to the destruction of the holiest place on earth.

And the destruction is absolute. I stood atop the Temple Mount, feeling the weight of my People’s past on my shoulders and the towering Dome of the Rock looming over me in the place where our Temple would have stood, and it was almost hard to breathe. I had commemorated Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of both Temples, my whole life – but this was the first time I had ever felt the loss so completely personally.

Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning. We do not eat or drink for 25 hours, we do not wear makeup or leather shoes, and we do not engage in pleasurable activities on that day. It is a day when we mourn the loss of both Temples.  But what do we, the Jews of today, know about that kind of loss? None of us living today have known a world in which the Temple stood. We learn about the Temple days, and we think about the Temple abstractly. Can one possibly mourn properly for a thing one has never known?

Before I went up to the Temple Mount, I would have said no.

But now?

When I stood on that mountaintop, I couldn’t explain why my eyes welled with tears or why my chest ached suddenly with a horrible longing. I couldn’t explain the rush of emotion that closed my throat and set my hands to trembling. But I can explain it now. It was loss. It was the deep, keening cry that thrummed through me like an echo from generations past, the echo of ancestors who knew exactly what it meant to lose our holy Temple and needed me to understand.

This past Sunday, as we remembered and commemorated the destruction of the First and Second Temples on Tisha B’Av, I was thinking about my fateful walk atop the Temple Mount. I felt that selfsame loss that had struck me so harrowingly back on the mountain, but I felt also a measure of hope. Baseless hatred had caused the Temple to be taken from us. Today, as people the world over work determinedly towards becoming more inclusive and accepting, I feel as though we are approaching a time when that hatred can become a thing of the past. Groups that once fought each other find themselves bonding and working together to create a brighter future – our two peoples, Jews and Christians are leading the way on this today.

Perhaps we are the generation who will, finally, put an end to anti-Semitism, to hatred within the Jewish people, to intolerance and bigotry.  Perhaps we will be the ones leading by example, teaching others how to counteract baseless hatred and come together in love. Perhaps we will be the ones to build the Third and final Temple.  Perhaps we can bring an end to the loss. Perhaps.

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