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Parshas VaEtchanan (Nachamu) 5777

The Holy Temple Rebuilt: Will We Live To See It?

This week in the Jewish calendar begins with mourning and ends with consolation.

The first three days of the week are collectively part of the “Nine Days” which culminate with Tishah B’Av, the saddest day of the year. [The first ‘nine days’ of the Hebrew month of Av, up to and including Tishah B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem.]

The last three days of the week are the start of a period of nechamah (consolation), when we rise up from mourning and begin to comfort ourselves and look towards the redemption and the ultimate rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple..

These two periods – one of sadness and mourning followed by one of joy and consolation - are connected to each other. As the Talmud states (in Ta’anis 30b): “All who mourn [the destruction of] Jerusalem will merit to see it in its joy.”

However, this Talmudic teaching is quite problematic. After all, there is no doubt that the great 11th-century Torah scholar Rashi sat on the ground on Tishah B’Av and mourned for Jerusalem… yet he didn’t live to see its joy! And what about Maimonides and all the other medieval Jewish scholars, and before them all the great Talmudic sages … didn’t they sit on the floor on Tishah B’Av and weep bitterly for Jerusalem, yet all of them died before seeing the rebuilding of the Holy Temple!

So what then do the Rabbis mean when they say that ‘all those who mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing its joy’?

One answer to this question can be found in the commentary of the Ritv”a to Ta’anis (ibid), who writes that there are actually two periods of resurrection in the future.

The main period of resurrection will be at the end of Olam HaZeh (“This World”) as we know it (before we move into the next phase called Olam HaBa, the “World to Come”), and is for all Jews (unless, of course, they are without any merit). However, there will be an earlier period of resurrection, just before the building of the Third Temple in the Messianic Era. At this resurrection, all the righteous Jews who died in the exile yearning for the Messiah will merit coming back to life to witness the joy of the final redemption.

The Migdal Dovid (83a) writes that this is a great consolation for all those Jews who suffered throughout the centuries and millennia, and who died Al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s Name), yet who never got to see the “good times” which we all pray for, when we will all live in peace and harmony in the Land of Israel with the coming of the Messiah and the building of the Third Temple. All those Jews and all others who longed and yearned for the Messianic Era – including Rashi, Maimonides, the Talmudic sages, as well as all our Bubbies and Zeidys who sang “Next Year in Jerusalem” with great longing every year at the end of Yom Kippur and the Passover Seder yet who never got to see it - will rise up from their graves to enjoy this very special time.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT”L suggests a different approach to answer our question:

At first glance, the Talmudic statement mentioned above seems peculiar. Why did the Rabbis say that those who mourn Jerusalem’s destruction will merit seeing it b’simchasah - “in its joy”? It would be more logical to say that they will merit seeing Jerusalem b’vinyanah – “in its rebuilt state”. After all, our primary wish is for the rebuilding of Jerusalem!

To understand what the Rabbis were saying, we need to appreciate what exactly our holy ancestors were mourning for.

Maimonides writes in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 11:4:

“The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Messianic era in order to have dominion over the entire world, to rule over the gentiles, to be exalted by the nations, or to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather, they desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and wisdom without any pressures or disturbances, so that they would merit the world to come, as explained in the Laws of Repentance.”

So we see that it was not the rebuilding of the Temple itself that the Sages were yearning for. Rather, it was the opportunity to study Torah with no distractions that they so desired, and that can only happen when the Messiah comes and rebuilds the Holy Temple and brings peace on earth.

What’s more, in the “good old days” when we had a Holy Temple in Jerusalem and things were as they should be, there were thousands upon thousands of prophets among the Jewish people. Indeed, the Talmud in Megillah 14a states: “Many prophets arose in Israel, double the number of those who left Egypt; but prophecy that was needed for future generations was written and that which was not needed was not written”. [If you’re not good in math, this means that there were 1,200,000 prophets living among the Jewish people!]

These prophets were there to give the Jewish people spiritual guidance any time they needed it, setting them straight when they made mistakes, and showing them their true potential and how to achieve it.

Wow! Can you imagine having your own personal spiritual mentor to correct your mistakes and to guide you at every turn in your life? How amazing would that be?!

Of course, all this was taken away from us when the Holy Temple was destroyed and we were sent into exile among the nations, and will only come back when the Messiah arrives and the Holy Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.

It is the joyous opportunity to learn Torah and wisdom unimpeded as well as the ability to achieve one’s true potential in life that will accompany the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, that the great Torah scholars yearned for, not just the rebuilding of the Temple itself.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller explains that when the Rabbis declared that all who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit to see its joy, they meant what they said. It is true that Rashi and Maimonides and others who died in the exile did not merit to see Jerusalem b’vinyanah, in its future rebuilt state, but they did merit to see Jerusalem b’simchasah, in its joy, i.e. in their own lifetimes they were rewarded by G-d with Divine guidance and were able to see the joy that a rebuilt Jerusalem could give them, the joy of achieving their true potential in life.

As Rabbi Miller says it: “…a tzaddik (righteous person) like Rashi mourned for Jerusalem in a perfect manner, weeping and saying, ‘Oh for the days of old when we had prophets. What a glorious period that was!’ Then G-d responded, ‘You are looking for someone who will set you straight in life? If so, then right now I will give you what you are wishing for: You will merit that perfect guidance. I will give it to you in the form of siyata d’Shmaya, assistance from Heaven’.”

Indeed, Rashi and all the great Torah sages throughout Jewish history were only able to accomplish all that they did in their very productive lives through the Divine assistance that they earned because they mourned the loss of prophecy and guidance that the Jewish people once enjoyed, and were rewarded in kind.

We certainly hope and pray to G-d each day that we one day merit to see the actual rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Yet even if for whatever reason we don’t get to see it, G-d forbid, we can still earn the ability of experiencing now the true joy of unimpeded Torah study and achieving our potential that will be felt by all when the Temple is rebuilt, simply by yearning for this joy and mourning over its loss.

[Sources: The Three Weeks, Tishah B’Av and Other Fasts by Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, Artscroll Mesorah Publications]

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