Appreciating What We Lost
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that all the troubles we experience are due to the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash and our exile. That catastrophic event is the source of all our problems. The Mikdash served as a protective force that shielded us from harm, and thus its loss is the cause of all our problems.
This itself would be sufficient reason for us to cry over and mourn the Temple’s destruction. All the suffering and anguish which Jews are experiencing are a direct result of this tragedy, and we continue to feel its effects each and every day.
But there is also another reason for us to cry and mourn.
The Midrash relates that when the Romans came to destroy the Temple, they wanted to first loot the building. Before entering, they decided to send in a Jewish traitor named Yosef Meshita to take something from the Bet Ha’mikdash, promising him that he could keep whatever he took. Yosef went inside the Temple and emerged carrying the beautiful Menorah. The Romans were impressed, but they said that such an elaborate article is not suitable for a private individual. They told him to go choose something else.
“Is it not enough that I angered my Creator once,” Yosef said, “that you ask me to go again?” The Romans pressured him to go, but he refused. They threatened to kill him, but he still refused, adamant in his insistence not to anger G-d. Finally, the Romans tortured him to death.
Yosef Meshita, as mentioned, had been a traitor, who turned his back on his nation and joined the Romans. What suddenly changed? Why was he now wary about angering the Almighty? The commentators explain that he experienced the sanctity of the Bet Ha’mikdash. Once he just walked into the building and sensed G-d’s presence, he was changed, he was inspired, and he could no longer bring himself to betray his Maker.
The Mikdash was a place of unmistakable spiritual power. Just being at the site filled one with awe and drew him closer to G-d. It was the Almighty’s residence, and His residence among us brings blessing. This is another reason why we cry on Tisha B’Ab, lamenting the loss of this spiritual life source. The Vilna Gaon commented that he longed to meet even a simple person who lived at the time of the Mikdash. The simpletons in that age were on a higher level than the Vilna Gaon. They had access to the spiritual power of the Temple, which has since been taken away from us, denying us this precious opportunity for elevation and closeness to G-d.
But the most important reason why we must mourn the Temple’s destruction is because of the “pain,” as it were, that G-d Himself experiences. The Gemara teaches in Masechet Berachot that several times each night, G-d “roars like a lion” and expresses His anguish over the Temple’s destruction. We are not the only ones in exile; G-d in in exile, as well, and in a sense, His exile is worse than ours. Even in exile, we have homes to live in, whereas G-d does not have His home, so-to-speak. We might say that He’s been “homeless” for nearly two millennia.
The story is told of a man who came to pray at the Kotel. A certain Sadik saw him praying, and asked him what he was praying for. He explained that he was praying because he needed a new house and did not have the money for it.
“Before praying for your home,” the Sadik told him, “pray that G-d should have a home.”
The great Sadikim truly empathize with the anguish of the Shechina which has no home. They pray Tikun Hasot each night, weeping bitterly over G-d’s exile. They do not worry about their own troubles because they are too pained by G-d’s troubles, as it were.
We, of course, are not on this level, and there is certainly nothing wrong with praying for our needs and praying for Mashiah so our problems will be solved. But it cannot end there. We must not think only about ourselves. We must pray for the redemption for G-d’s sake, with the realization that G-d’s honor is compromised as long as the Temple is in ruins and we are in exile. This exile is not only about us and our troubles; it is also, and primarily, about G-d and His “troubles.” We long and pray for the day when the Temple will be restored, when this long period of “homelessness” will end, and all inhabitants of the earth will recognize and give praise to the one, true G-d of the universe.