Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weight of the Fall

It’s Elul.  And I love Elul.  A lot.  But this year I feel like my record player is stuck on Tisha B’av and won’t move on to the next song called “Elul.” 

I’m an optimist; the-glass-is-half-full kind of person.  I easily see beauty all around me: a pristine blue sky being overtaken by thunderheads . . . a spontaneous hug between my children . . . a beautiful wedding picture posted on Facebook . . . I see beauty everywhere.  But instead of going out into the beauty of the field this Elul to meet the King, I feel like staying inside with the door locked and curtains drawn.  My record seems stuck on the recurring thought that despite all the perceived beauty, life is so lacking.  I feel hit over the head with the reality that the true essence of each moment is missing and that the beauty I see is like fool’s gold; it may shine, but it’s not real.  And it’s not real because the building blocks of reality were broken.  They crumbled the day the Temple fell.  And so, it seems, we have been trying to build all the moments of our lives with dust instead of with solid stones.

The sages teach that all of life was diminished by the fall of the Temple.  The fall which was preceded by the departure of the Divine Presence.  After the Divine Presence left, the Temple was a mere shell, as was everything on earth.  It is no wonder that the Temple fell after the very Presence that holds the Universe together left.  And it is no wonder that the world, in its entirety has been falling ever since.  There is just enough life-force left to get by.

I think the sky is beautiful.  But it’s not as blue as it once was.  I think the love between me and my children and between me and my husband is precious.  But it’s only mere sparks compared to the original flame that once burned when the Divine Presence was here.  Do you ever wonder what it will be like when we as mere mortals are privy to experience what love originally felt like?  Or do you ever wonder what blue really looks like?  We have lived so long in a diminished state, we have forgotten we were made for so much more.

When my daughter was younger she asked me why people cry when they are happy.  She wondered aloud why she felt like crying when she watched a movie with a happy ending.   And she asked, “Mom, why do you get tears in your eyes when you tell me how much you love me?” 

Perhaps we cry when we are happy because we know deep inside that even the best life has to offer is incomplete; that even when we are happy, there is a part of us that is not.  And no matter how grateful we are for the life we are privileged to live, we know that we are not fully living.  We cry when we are happy, because deep down we know it is not enough.  Mazol Tov!” is shouted, but the breaking of glass resonates louder within us all.  The sages teach that it is a mitzvah to be happy.  And I am happy, despite penning such melancholy thoughts.  But would it sound too paradoxical to say that in every moment of my happiness, there is a measure of sadness?  There is a dark corner in my mind that thinks, “This moment is so wonderful.  But it’s a moment without the fullness of the Divine Presence.” 

I don’t pretend to remotely comprehend all that the Temple stood for; all that it housed, all that it did for mankind.  Therefore, I don’t pretend to remotely comprehend all that was lost in the world when the Temple was destroyed.  But even without full knowledge, I still long for its return. 

There are those who do comprehend the weight of the destruction of the Temple.  I marvel at how they live daily without buckling under the pressure of carrying such a weight.  And I wonder what the rest of us “normal” people could do to help them carry the weight.  If the rest of us searched deep enough in the recesses of who we once were, would we feel the weight of what the sages of Israel carry?  Would we remember when beauty and love were complete?  Would we remember when Heaven kissed the earth?  Would we remember when the spirit realm wedded the physical inside a House of stone?  Would we remember those stones were anchors keeping the Divine Presence on earth?  Would we remember what warmth really felt like, what light really looked like?  If we remembered, then surely we would stop relying on sparks and do whatever it takes to bring the fullness of the Light back.  If we remembered, then surely we would do whatever it takes to start the rebuilding of the Temple, which in essence would be the rebuilding of the world. 

Every beautiful song is the sound of longing.  Every beautiful poem is plea for a return.  Every beautiful piece of artwork is an attempt to recreate what once was.  And every beautiful moment of loved shared between people is a remembrance of what was and a beckoning for what could be again.

The daily here and now, though, no matter how incomplete it may seem, is what we have been given and are expected to make the most of.  Every moment in our lives, the way we choose to live it, can either be a moment of destroying the Temple all over again, or rebuilding it.  Every act in our lives can reject the Divine Presence or create a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.  And no matter how tiring it is, or how hard it may seem, we are expected to keep searching for and finding the sparks that hid when their source reluctantly left the Temple.  We are expected to live each day to the fullest, even while knowing the “fullness” we experience is an illusion of what once was.  And for those reasons, I will go sit in the field with the King in silence.  And then I will ask Him if He wants to talk of things that once were and are destined to be again.  I will ask Him if He, too, is tired of sitting out in the elements of a field, when He has memories of having a Home.  And I will ask Him what I can do to ensure that next year, by Elul, He along with us all will experience a Homecoming.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Call to Remember

After the Israeli government recently closed the Temple Mount to Jews until August 11, MK Moshe Feiglin, who vehemently disagrees with the closure, issued a clarion call asking that at least 1000 Jews assemble at the locked gates of the Temple Mount to protest the closure.  Will the Jewish populace in Israel react to this call with a yawn or with the roar of a lion?
Sometimes one can become so accustomed to his surroundings that he forgets to be fully aware of, much less appreciative of what is right in front of him.  I'm afraid this somnambulistic state afflicts many Jews who live in Israel when it comes to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Nachman once said, “Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.”  No matter where he was physically, his heart and mind were always in Jerusalem.  Was Rabbi Nachman’s sentiment equivalent to Tony Bennet leaving his heart in San Fransico?  Hardly.  Rabbi Nachman’s spirit was attached to Jerusalem deeply because he knew it was the point of his attachment to Hashem.
Being the King of the Universe, God could have chosen any location in the universe “to place His name,” “to dwell,” and “to rest His presence.”  Where did He chose do to this?  Jerusalem, and more precisely, the Temple Mount.  (Deuteronomy 12:5, I Kings 8:29 & 11:36, Isaiah 37:16 & 60:13, Ezekiel 43:7, Zechariah 8:3, Joel 4:17, Psalm 32:13)
If God is incorporeal and omniscient, why or even how could there be a precise location for His Presence to dwell?  Couldn’t Rabbi Nachman have directed his sentiments anywhere, since God is everywhere?  Yes, God is everywhere.  Yet He chose to manifest Himself more intensely and to associate His Name with one specific place, Jerusalem.  And even more precisely, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 
“In many places, when speaking of the Jerusalem, the Torah calls it, ‘The place that G-d will choose to make His Name dwell there.’  To the extent that we can understand it, this means that G-d associates Himself with this place. This is very difficult for the human mind to comprehend, and indeed, Solomon, the wisest of all men, found it impossible to understand. He thus said to G-d, ‘Behold, the heavens and the heavens of Heaven cannot contain you, how much less this House that I have built’ (1-Kings 8:27). Yet, he knew that G-d had somehow associated Himself with this place, as G-d Himself had proclaimed.” Aryeh Kaplan
The Temple Mount, where God chose to place His Name, is literally the point of creation; the place where the physical realm came into existence.  And it is the place where everything we can’t see, i.e. the spiritual world, attaches itself to the physical.  It is literally the portal between heaven and the earth.  This precise point of creation on the Temple Mount is called the Even Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone. 
It appears to me that the primeval point which G-d created out of nothing is what the sages called the foundation stone from where the world was founded.” - Nachmanides, Commentary to the Torah, Genesis 1,1
“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created His world, He created it like an infant born from its mother. For a fetus born from the mother, begins from its navel and expands outward to all four directions so too, the Holy One, blessed is He, began to create the world from the Foundation Stone and from that, the entire world was established.” - Midrash Tanchuma – Pikudei #3
Jacob saw a vision of this primeval point of creation that links heaven and earth.  His vision is famously known as “Jacob’s ladder” and is recorded in Genesis 28.
Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.  He encountered the place and spent the night . . . he took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place.  And he dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of God were ascending and descending on it . . . Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know! And he became frightened and said, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the abode of God and this is the gate of the heavens!  Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar; and poured oil on its top . . . and said this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a House of God.
Did you catch that?  Even prior to the Temple standing, Jacob called the Temple Mount the "abode of God" and "the gate of the heavens."  Wow.  Just wow.  I’m afraid that many Jews have forgotten this, even Jews who live in Jerusalem.  It’s as if the Temple Mount has become just another historical relic or an off-limits religious site and they have forgotten what it really represents; the place where God dwells and the link between this world and the world above, the gateway to heaven.  That has never changed. 
Currently, there is a structure, built by Muslims in 691, on the Temple Mount called the Dome of the Rock.  Have you ever asked yourself or wondered why there is a dome over a rock?  Although the Muslims have their own beliefs about why the rock is special, some Jews know the primary reason; because it is the Even Shetiyah
It's interesting that the spot where Jacob slept was simply called “the place.”  Such an ordinary description for such an extraordinary spot.  Yet at the same time what an apt name - the place - as if it is the only place of real significance in the world.  Jacob slept at the precise location of the future alter of the Holy Temple.  No wonder it was the place where Adam, Cain, Abel, and Noah made sacrifices, according to Pirke de Rabbi Eliezar 31.  And it was the place where Abraham bound Isaac to the altar.  In fact the 12 stones Jacob gathered around his head before he slept came from the alter Abraham made and bound Isaac upon.  And a few feet away from the site of the alter rests the Even Shetiyah.  So obviously it was no coincidence that all of theses auspicious events occurred at “the place” because it was the place of the Even Shetiyah; the foundation stone from which the entire universe emanated.
As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world . . . situated in the center of the world,
and Jerusalem in the center of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the center of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the center of the holy place,
and the Foundation Stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded.
(Roman-Era Midrash Tanchuma)
             I’m not Jewish, but when I pray I face towards Jerusalem as described in Kings 8:41-43 and Psalm 138.  I face east in reverence of God's dwelling place on earth, in acknowledgment that my prayers ascend to heaven via the portal Jacob saw over the Temple Mount, and in acknowledgment that all physical blessings still come through that same portal as the Psalmist acknowledged in 128, “May Hashem bless you from Zion.” 
So yes, I will be facing east the next few days as I pray for Jews to awaken from their spiritual slumber and have the same reaction Jacob had after he awoke and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know!  How awesome is this place!”  I will be praying that Jews answer the call to amass at the Temple Mount on Wednesday, August 7 at 7:30 at the Mughrabi Gate.  Abraham called the Temple Mount, “Hashem Yireh,” meaning Hashem will see.  How apropos if many Jews are seen by Hashem at the Temple Mount on Wednesday.