A Message for Rosh Chodesh Av from the Temple Institute, Jerusalem
Today is Rosh Chodesh Av, the first of the Hebrew month of Av. Jewish people the world over are now moving into a new level of intensity in the special three week mourning period, which began with the fast of the 17th day of Tammuz, and culminates with the fast day of Tisha BAv, which falls out this year on Thursday, July 22nd.
What occurred on the 9th of Av?
Five distinct tragedies befell the Jewish people on this day.
1). The spies which had been sent to report on the situation in the Promised Land returned, and they delivered an evil report which greatly discouraged the Jewish people. They convinced the people that despite G-ds assurances, the Land and its inhabitants could not be conquered. The people of Israel wept all that night, and according to the insight of our sages, the Holy One was prompted to declare: Because you spent this night crying for no reason, I will see to it that on this night, you will always have a reason to cry. G-d then decreed that this entire generation would not be allowed to enter into the Land of Israel.
2-3). Both the First and Second Holy Temples were destroyed on this day.
4). The city of Betar, last Jewish stronghold against the Roman invaders, was captured. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed.
5). The wicked Roman officer Turnus Rufus plowed over the site of the Holy Temple, thus fulfilling the verse, Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house, as the high places of a forest. (Jer. 26:18).
In more recent times, the list of Tisha BAv calamities has lengthened. In the year 1492, the entire Jewish community of Spain, when faced with the alternative of accepting conversion, was forcibly expelled on the 9th of Av by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. It is amazing to note that the First World War also began on the 9th of Av. During the Holocaust years, the gas chambers in the Treblinka death camp began operating on the very same day.
The nation of Israel is no stranger to tragedy. Although this period commemorates a number of calamities that befell our people throughout history, the main focus of these days is the loss of the Holy Temple. Since its destruction, the Holy Temple has been the focal point of Jewish longing and yearning, for we know that the Jewish peopleand the entire worldcan only reach its optimum state when the Holy Temple is standing, and the Creators Shechina (the Divine Presence) once again dwells there.
Although the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Templewas destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago, it has still remained a source of inspiration and the object of a spiritual odyssey that has succeeded in binding our people together. For according to the Torah, as emphasized by every prophet of Israel, the day will come when the entire world will reach its climatic tikkun, rectification of harmony, unity and fulfillment. This belief sees Jerusalem, with the Holy Temple at its heart, as the spiritual center and source of light and inspiration for all of humanity.
This belief has inspired countless generations. The prophecies recorded in the Tanach all originated in Jerusalem, and were later translated into the languages of the earth, providing access to all. Thus, from the cradle of humanity, the word of G-d emanated to all corners of the globe, and in this manner Jerusalems status was established as the universal spiritual center. Indeed, to speak of Jerusalem is to speak of that for which G-d chose Jerusalemthe Holy Temple, where G-d allows His Shechina, the Divine Glory of His presence, to dwell on earth; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56).
The Loss of the Holy Temple
When the Beit HaMikdash stood in Jerusalem, it was the soul of the entire world. It was the spiritual center and the arena for mankinds direct relationship with G-d. Everybody knows that the Holy Temple represents an important period in Jewish history. We study about it; once in a while, in our more sensitive moments, we can sometimes even muster an audible sigh when we think of the Jewish peoples lost grandeur; the bygone age that is no longer... not to mention, of course, the suffering of the Divine Presence in exile and the desecration of Hashems name. For almost two thousand years, through all our bitter (and sometimes, not so bitter...) wanderings, we have prayed three times a day that the Holy Temple should be rebuilt speedily and in our day. And when we pray, wherever we happen to be, we face Jerusalem and the spot of the Holy Temple, just as Daniel did in Babylonian captivity... this act alone, facing Jerusalem in prayer, is meant to show solidarity with our spiritual source. We diligently learn about the sacrificial offerings and recall that the sages have stated (BT Menachot 110:A) whoever occupies himself with the laws of the sin-offering, is reckoned by Heaven as if he has brought the offering. And on Tisha BAv, the solemn day of mourning that marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, we sit upon the floor and bemoan our loss...
But just how much does the Holy Templeor lack of itreally mean to us?
If we had the opportunity to change things, would we try? The book of Ezra records that when Cyrus, King of Persia, gave permission for the exiled Jews to return to the Land of Israel to rebuild the Holy Temple, a grand total of only 42,360 Jews returned... while millions stayed behind in Babylon, where they had wealth, influence, and vast academies of study. It would seem that historically speaking, the Jewish people as a whole were not particularly interested in rebuilding the Temple...
The Commandment to Build the Temple
Yet no obstacle should stand in the way of fulfilling any of the mitzvot, the commandments which the Jewish people are obligated to fulfill... and building the Holy Temple is no exception. At the time the Second Temple was built, Israel had no king... neither had the Divinely-appointed mashiach arrived. Jerusalem was completely controlled by the Persian and Median kings. And those who constructed it represented a tiny fragment of the nation; the vast majority of the Jewish people, with great scholars and sages among them, chose to stay behind in exile .they chose that way of life because they had grown accustomed to it. Yet the Talmud informs us that the Rabbis of the Land of Israel faulted their contemporaries, the leaders of Babylonian Jewry, for not returning to build the Temple when the opportunity arose.
The Temple Institute: Working to Restore Temple Consciousness
At the Temple Institute in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalems Old City, something is being done about the Holy Temple something so unique that it has not been seen on the face of the earth for nearly 2,000 years: the authentic reconstruction of the sacred vessels for use in the priestly service of the rebuilt Holy Temple, in accordance to exacting Biblical and halachic specifications.
The Temple Institute, or Machon HaMikdash as it is known in Hebrew, was founded with a singular goal and purpose. This is to raise the consciousness and awareness of the Jewish people and all humanity towards the realization of the central role which the Holy Temple plays in the life of mankind and to prepare accordingly for the time when it will be possible to rebuild.
The Institute seeks to rekindle a spark of the Holy Temples light, here and now. In addition to its program of the restoration of Temple vessels, the Institute is actively engaged in ongoing scientific and educational projects geared towards furthering the understanding and awareness of the spiritual significance of the Temple to mankind in general and the Jewish people in particular. This program includes research, publications, and seminars.
For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, vessels designed for the Holy Temple can once again be seen. They are prepared according to the exact requirements and nuances of Jewish law for the expressed purpose of use in the Third Temple. These vessels are not models, copies or replicas, but are actually kosher, functional pieces, made from gold, copper, silver, and the other original source materials. The details of the Biblical verses have been followed to the letter, as well as the clarifications of the Mishna, the Talmud and Maimonides. The restoration is so accurate that should the Temple be rebuilt immediately, the Divine service could be resumed without delay, utilizing these vessels.
The Torah ennumerates 93 categories of klei sharet, sacred vessels to be used in the Beit HaMikdash. Of this number, the Temple Institute has already constructed half. Among the vessels which can be viewed at the Institute are the copper washbasin and stand; the golden crown of the High Priest, silver trumpets, mizrakot for the sacrifices, and priestly garments.
The Institute is presently engaged in the construction of the three main vessels that stand inside the holy area, within the Sanctuary itself. These are the golden menorah, the golden incense altar, and the golden table for the Showbread.
Research and Development
In addition to this work, the Temple Institute is also conducting a number of science-related research projects that are certainly firsts in our time. Some highlights:
The identification and assembly of all 11 ingredients of the Incense offering from all over the world, according to several authoritative opinions.
After long and exhaustive research involving geologists, gemologists, and other experts, the final and conclusive identification of the 12 stones of the High Priests breastplate, one of the 8 garments which the High Priest must wear will officiating in the Temple.
Advanced computerized graphics and images have been utilized to create a functional blueprint and design for the Holy Temple.
Many people who visit the Institute are incredulous and cannot help but exclaim: Do you really think that you will live to see the Holy Temple rebuilt? But the reality of the Jewish Experience means that the Temple will be rebuilt. We can, and must, take responsibility for ourselves. All those who feel strongly about the Temple are welcome to participate in this holy work by supporting the Institutes efforts. As our sages express, every generation that does not see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, is guilty of having destroyed it.
Rabbi Chaim Richman