Talk about Jewish guilt. It is said that if we don’t witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in our lifetime, it’s as if we witness its destruction. If that’s not difficult enough, the key to rebuilding is simple to articulate but challenging to do: to love another Jew for no reason whatsoever (ahavat yisrael). This love repairs the “baseless hatred” (sin’at chinam) that caused the Second Temple’s destruction on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, in 69 CE.
Until Talk about Jewish guilt!the Temple is rebuilt, our nation stops to grieve during the three weeks leading up to the 9th of Av. During this period (known as the “Three Weeks”) there are no weddings, no haircuts and no music. During the nine days from the 1st of Av to the 9th of Av (the “Nine Days”), forget about swimming, eating meat (unless it’s Shabbat) and taking a summer vacation. Then there’s Tisha B’Av itself, a 25-hour-long fast that usually feels longer because it’s so ridiculously hot outside.
But what I always disliked most about this time period was how clearly I could see what was lacking in me.
When I was growing up, summer meant fun. And that’s what it continued to mean to my extended family, old friends and neighbors who didn’t know about the Three Weeks or the Nine Days or Tisha B’Av. They were happily taking vacations and making barbecues, while I was sitting home in the middle of summer with a bunch of kids and nothing to do.
I have to admit that I didn’t always view my fun-loving fellow Jews so kindly during the Three Weeks. After all, I rationalized, I’d done a lot of heavy lifting to do what G‑d wants so that the Temple could be rebuilt. What about all the Jews who couldn’t care less? Which was exactly the worst possible thought I could think about other Jews, especially at this time. I knew that, too, which meant that I didn’t especially like myself at this time of year either.
But even so, I always kept an image of the Temple in my mind, remembering how it inspired me during a Shabbaton my young family attended nearly 30 years earlier. Before that weekend, I knew that the Temple had existed—I had been to Jerusalem and seen the Western Wall—but I assumed it was basically a bigger version of our giant synagogue in Pittsburgh. (What else should I have thought? Everyone referred to our synagogue as “temple.”)
When on this Shabbaton I learned that G‑d performed open miracles in the Temple in Jerusalem and that, up until its destruction, people actually knew that G‑d existed, I was thrilled to be able to confirm my suspicion about G‑d’s existence.
The Temple in Jerusalem provided enough evidence for me that the whole G‑d and Torah story was true. From there, the idea chain was fairly straightforward: our mitzvahs hasten the coming of Moshiach, who will rebuild the Third Temple, which will exist for eternity. Learning about the Temple put Jewish history, indeed all of creation, into a meaningful context. My existential questions had answers right in my own religious backyard.
By I have seen a change in my relationship with G‑d and the worldthe end of the Shabbaton, my husband and I signed on the spiritual dotted line, sure that we wanted to be part of the rebuilding campaign.
But every year the Three Weeks would set me back, and I would fall into the trap of looking at what other Jews weren’t doing for G‑d.
Only recently have I seen a change in my relationship with G‑d and the world. I am able to see other Jews in a way that I couldn’t before—to accept, care about and love them no matter what they do, even during the Three Weeks. That this attitude helps rebuild the Temple is almost secondary.
It took many years for me to internalize that surrendering my will to G‑d’s will would be my ticket to personal happiness, and that what He wants most from me is to love other Jews. What surprises me still is how happy I am when I do it.