Rabbanit Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
While we are in the “three weeks”, the period also known as bein hametzarim, 'between the narrow straits', that marks the period of mourning beginning with the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and ending with the destruction of our Holy Temples, we must ask ourselves if our mourning is sincere.
We go through the rituals of mourning, abstaining from weddings and haircuts for example, but do we internalize the emotion, do we truly feel what we have lost, or, as Rabbi Yaakov Emden illustrates, are we like a young child who knows he has lost a parent but continues to play without understanding the extent of his loss.
If we are so distant from feeling the true extent of the loss of the Beit Hamikdosh, our problem is even greater, for we are experiencing a loss of self, a personal churban, for Hashem wanted us to build a sanctuary not only as a physical structure but also as a sanctuary within ourselves so that He could dwell within us. This personal loss needs to be mourned as much as the national loss of the Beit Hamikdosh.
There is a close connection between the physical Beit Hamikdosh and the one within our hearts, for the purpose of the Beit Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim was to reinforce our personal and national connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.
Hashem’s presence was palpable in the Beit Hamikdosh. Three times a year we were instructed to go to Yerushalayim to bring our korbanot, literally, that which brings us close, and rejuvenate our connection to Hashem.
As Rav Reiss points out in Paamei Moed, we had that opportunity any time during the year, any hour of any day when we may have felt our connection flagging, to renew that connection by going to the physical place where we could feel the warmth of His embrace where we felt the tzelem Elokhim, the Divine image within ourselves.
With the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh, we face the challenge of keeping that connection alive even without the potential of plugging in to the connecting source of this energy.
Rabbi Reiss continues. We still have the opportunity to reconnect to Hashem on a regular basis through tefillah, through prayer. But this is effective only when we realize that that the codified prayers are meant to serve as a springboard for our personal conversations with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, to speak to Him about what is going on in our lives as we would talk to our own parent.
If we cannot feel our connection through our prayers, the medium we used in the Beit Hamikdosh when we brought our korbanot, our spiritual connection to Hashem even through Torah study is weakened. The external and the internal connection is severed.
The nature of the three weeks is that it has created destructive divisiveness so that we are no longer whole and complete within ourselves, with others and with Hashem.
Rabbi Yaakov Hillel in Ascending Jacob’s Ladder discusses the idea that each part of the human body corresponds to a differ part of the Beit Hamikdosh, and the heart represents the Holy of Holies. Therefore, the yetzer horo takes up residence within the left side of the heart while the yetzer hatov lives in the right chambers. The battle to retain our personal Beit Hamikdosh takes place constantly within our hearts, for it is our hearts and emotions that drive the rest of our being, from our intellect to our actions.
What this means, explains Rabbi Hillel, is that every time we do something wrong, we cause the Shechina, God’s Presence, to leave us and destroy our personal, internal Sanctuary, destroying the present day Beit Hamikdosh. If we are to merit rebuilding the physical structure of the Beit Hamikdosh on earth, we must work to rebuild our inner Beit Hamikdosh, the reflection of the Beit Hamikdosh on high.
How are we to work on this goal? Rabbi Freiman gives us some guidelines in Shaarei Derech. He explains that while we may learn Torah and live halakhically correct lives, our priorities may be skewed. Are our lives centered around Torah and connection to God, or around the business world? Do we sacrifice the time for prayer or Torah study to sleep a little longer and still get to an entertainment venue early? Do we take as much time to arrange and reward learning time for our school age children as we spend in arranging play dates?
The three weeks is a time to realign our priorities and nurture our spiritual essence.
During the three weeks we ask Hashem to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh, Hashem’s home. Rabbi Pincus in Galut veNechama turns this question around. He says that Hashem is telling us to look at our own homes, our mini Batei Mikdosh. Would Hashem be comfortable residing in our homes? Is the atmosphere conducive to spiritual growth and action? We are so busy “loving” our mundane possessions, activities and surroundings, that we may not find time and space to love Hashem. Enjoy this world, but not at the expense of sacrificing spiritual values, says Rabbi Pincus.
Keep the focus of my home a comfortable place in which God’s presence can reside. That means not only removing improper influences, but also adding positive elements. Make the home a place where brachot are recited regularly and with affection for Hashem. Imbue Shabbat with peace, tranquility and activities appropriate to its spiritual significance. Perhaps above all, keep the household speech holy, gentle and positive. During these three weeks, what can I do to create a more inviting environment for God’s holy Presence?
Rav Aharon Kotler asks what’s stopping us from aiming for the stars, for a vision of greatness within our homes. We feel a disconnect between our spiritual selves and our physical selves. The influences of the outside world have destroyed our connectedness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu and have rendered a churban, a destruction within ourselves so that we are no longer whole. What’s stopping me from recreating this connection so I no longer feel uncomfortable saying a bracha out loud or washing for hamotzie in public?
The greatest disconnect from Hashem is caused by our failure in our love for our fellow man, sinat chinom. Rabbi Friefeld speaks of sinat chinom, groundless hatred, as the ultimate form of disconnectedness, for our mission on earth as Jews is to unite the world, to create a wholeness and connectedness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. If we cannot love another fellow human being who is also created in the image of God, then we are chasing God’s Presence away.
This wholeness of mission among the Jewish people was achieved first when everyone came together in love of Hakodosh Boruch Hu to build the Mishkan and establish it in Shiloh, and it achieved permanence in the building of the Beit Hamikdosh.
The Beit Hamikdosh was the tangible symbol of the wholeness within Bnei Yisroel and our connection to Hashem. Once sinat chinom entered our hearts, however, it drove the Shechinah away and the Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed.
Let us bring the redemption closer by focusing on the sanctuaries within ourselves and within our homes. Let us create a place without divisiveness, where our spiritual essence is in harmony with our physical reality, and where our behavior in our homes and toward each other mirrors the love Hakodosh Boruch Hu feels for us. When it is whole again, we will merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh, the structure that represents this wholeness and connectedness, may it be speedily in our day.
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein. This is last summary for this season. Thank you for reading.