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.