Parshas Va’eschanan (5774)
I hate to ruin the rest of your summer vacation but …although we just ended the fast of Tishah B’Av on Tuesday evening, signifying the end of Bein HaMetzarim, the three-week period of mourning over the destruction of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people, there is still more mourning to come.
You see, the world is still in a pretty dreadful state, and the Jewish people are not doing so well either. So even though the three weeks of acute mourning and sorrow have ended, the Jewish people never stop thinking about how much we miss the good times when G-d’s Divine Presence rested on the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the nation was united as one.
Great Jews all throughout history lived their entire lives with this realization that so long as the Temple has not been rebuilt, the world will never reach a perfected state.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ZT”L (1848 –1932) was the Chief Rabbi of the Chareidi Jewish community in Jerusalem during the years of the British Mandate of Palestine. Rabbi Sonnenfeld was a great Torah scholar and a big Tzaddik (righteous person) who was beloved by all. Mr. Isaac Nussbaum of Halberstadt, Germany, was a wealthy friend of the Sonnenfeld family. He urged R’ Yosef Chaim to allow him to build a spacious, beautiful home for the Rabbi in the Old City of Jerusalem where he lived. R’ Yosef Chaim thanked him for his generous offer and led him to the window of his modest dwelling, which faced the Temple Mount. “Look out the window, Mr. Nussbaum,” said R’ Yosef Chaim wistfully. “See how the house of G-d, our Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple), lies in ruin, its site occupied by Arabs. Can you really want to build a mansion for me? It is enough for a servant to be like his master. As long as the Palace of the King is destroyed, this simple dwelling will suffice.”
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) in Orach Chayim 1:3 writes that it is fitting for a yerei shomayim (one who fears G-d) to be constantly pained and troubled over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash (the Holy Temple).
Now maybe we can’t be at the level of feeling constant pain over the destruction of the Holy Temple, but there are some mournful laws and customs that the Sages enacted Zeicher L’Churban, lit. ‘to remember the destruction’, which serve to remind us at otherwise happy occasions in our lives that all is not well with the world as long as G-d’s Home is still in ruins.
Here are a few of the enactments that the Sages made Zeicher L’Churban, some that are more well-known than others:
1) One who has a house should leave a part of the wall without plaster or paint, ‘zeicher l’churban’. The blank portion should measure one cubit by one cubit square (roughly 22 x 22 inches). One is supposed to see this unfinished square whenever he walks into his house. Therefore, it should be made opposite the front door of the house. Some have a custom to make it above the front door. One who cannot make it on the wall opposite the entrance should make it as close to that wall as possible. One who bought a house from a non-Jew is not obligated to leave an unfinished space on the wall since the non-Jew was not obligated to do so. One who bought a house from a Jew who did not leave a space unfinished is required to do so when he moves in, if he knows that the original Jew did not buy the house from a non-Jew.
2) The custom is for the mothers of the bride and groom to break a plate at the Tena’im (pre-Chuppah ceremony at which a contract is signed in which both sides commit to bringing their children together under the Chuppah) as a ‘zeicher l’churban’.
3) Before marching down to the Chuppah (wedding canopy), ashes are placed on the groom’s forehead in the place where the Tefillin (phylacteries) are put on, and the groom recites the verse: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”
4) The custom is that the groom breaks a glass under the Chuppah at the end of the wedding ceremony ‘zeicher l’churban’, to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple even at this most joyous moment in his life. Today, many people sing “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…” before the groom breaks the glass.
These are but a few of the customs that were designed by our great Sages to help us keep Jerusalem and the Holy Temple at the forefront of our consciousness, so that we never forget that our collective mission of perfecting the world is far from complete.