To Live Is to Remember

Everyone grieves differently. Some try to ignore their memories of a loved one because it’s just too painful to remember; others work hard to preserve the memories, because without them they lose the gift of the past.

The Jewish people suffered a collective loss when the second Temple was destroyed. Some in the Jewish world have resolved to move forward as a diaspora nation. “Who needs the Temple?” they ask. “We have the Torah, our prayers and good deeds, and we get on well enough without it.”Everyone grieves differently

In truth, the Judaism we know today is only a shadow of its former self. We long for the Temple to be rebuilt so that we can observe all the mitzvahs that apply only when it stands. But even the memory of the Temple can enhance our observance, sanctify our homes, and deepen our connection to G‑d.

“Make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within you,” G‑d told the Jewish people. Every Jewish home, indeed every Jewish person, may become a “small sanctuary.” In fact, I believe each of the five primary components of the Temple service has a counterpart in our homes and in our hearts.

The Ark

The ark resided in the innermost sanctum of the Temple: the Holy of Holies, which was off-limits to everyone except the high priest. It housed the tablets, the only physical objects ever received directly from G‑d. Enclosed in the ark, concealed from prying eyes, the tablets represented our most intimate connection with G‑d.

In the temple of our home, the ark represents intimacy, and our holy of holies is the bedroom. This is the inner sanctum of a marriage, a place where no one but husband and wife may tread. When it is treated with the proper reverence, it becomes the cradle of their bond, which is ultimately the foundation on which the family rests.

In our divine service, the ark is the Torah, G‑d’s intellect and desire. When we study the Torah, we unite our intellect with His in the ultimate union of human mind and divine thought, human heart and divine will. It is the center of our religion, the soul of our connection.


The menorah radiated the Temple’s sanctity and light to the world at large. Its physical light represented the spiritual light of the divine presence.The menorah radiated the Temple’s sanctity

The menorah of our home is the warm glow of love that bathes the family and its environs. It is manifest in the way we relate to each other and interact with neighbors and friends. If our menorah is well lit, everyone will want to be part of our circle of light, and that light will continue to shine in our children.

In religion, the menorah corresponds to our good deeds. If the Torah is the heart of our faith, our good deeds are its expression in the world. The holiness that suffuses us in Torah study radiates outward when our actions reflect what we have learned.

Inner Altar

The inner altar was for incense. It was kindled once a day, but its effects were long-lasting. The aromatic fragrance seeped into the Temple’s walls, and from there into the nation’s soul. It represented the delight that we take in G‑d, and that G‑d takes in us.

In the temple of our home, the inner altar is the tender love that makes everyday life a delight. It is not bold and passionate; it is subtle and tender, but its presence pervades the home and sets the tone for the entire family. It is a loving gesture or a tender look exchanged during otherwise tedious routines. It turns a relationship into a marriage, and a marriage into a delight.

In religion, this is prayer, a time of bonding and exquisite pleasure. When one sits down to pray with a relaxed mind and joyful heart, the prayer becomes a bonding experience of true delight. Prayer produces a delicious spiritual aroma that lasts all day and uplifts everything we do.

Outer Altar

The outer altar was in the courtyard. Its roaring flames reached for the heavens, releasing torrents of energy and heat. This was the altar on which the sacrifices were offered, cementing our bond with G‑d.Marriages entail compromise and sacrifice

If the incense is the delight of our marriage, the sacrifices on the outer altar are its cauldron. Fires do two things: they melt and they forge. Inner delight melts the heart, but the outer flame forges our commitment. Marriages entail compromise and sacrifice, but the cauldron of love turns the burden of sacrifice into a gift given with pleasure.

In our personal service, the outer altar represents the sacrifices we make for G‑d. Sacrificing our personal desires can lead to resentment, unless we fan the flames of our love. When we contemplate G‑d’s magnificence, largesse and love for us, it inspires our love for Him. Empowered by love, we view our offerings as an honor and our relationship as a privilege.

Showbread Table

Finally, in the Temple there was a table for showbread. Twelve loaves were baked each week and placed on the table as an offering. Every Shabbat, new loaves were placed on the table, and the old ones were distributed to the priests.

In the temple of our homes, the table is the kitchen and family dining area. The kitchen is the heart of the home, where individuals gather daily to spend time, exchange ideas and share laughter, to nourish themselves physically and emotionally.

Our personal showbread tables are our festive Shabbat and holiday meals—Passover Seders, Shabbat dinners, and joyous meals in the sukkah. At the holiday table, our refined spiritual service finds expression in the corporeal pleasures of eating and drinking, good conversation and family camaraderie.

Yet in one sense these meals constitute the highest form of divine service. Judaism does not advocate asceticism; we are enjoined to use our physical pleasures for a higher purpose. The table is where Judaism comes to life, and this is particularly true when we invite those in need to celebrate with us.