Rosh Chodesh Torah Essay : The meaning of mourning for Jerusalem

The Rosh Chodesh Tamuz Torah essay is by Yudit Samad who, while a chartered accountant, directed and attended the Women's Midrasha Program in London. She made aliya with her family 3 years ago and is a student in Matan's Morot L’Halakha Program

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חיה בת שלמה Benjamin Edythe, beloved mother of Barbara Hanus Rosh Hodesh Tamuz Torah Essay

We enter the month of Tammuz in a sombre state of mind which intensifies as we approach the 17th of the month, the beginning of our three week mourning period for the loss of the two Batei HaMikdash, the holy temples.

In addition to grieving the loss of two holy buildings we also mourn the loss of kedusha, the holiness associated with them. Despite how they may sometimes be viewed, tumah and tahara are not concepts of dirty and clean or wrong and right. Tumah and tahara are defined by the Torah as the ability to achieve closeness to the Mikdash or the need to create a distance from it.

In Vayikra 10:11 we see the themes of kadosh and chol and tumah and tahara raised side by side: “And that you may differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” It is evident in the broader context of the following chapters in Vayikra that a key consequence of tumah is the inability to appear in the Mikdash, since it is the holiest place and embodies the very definition of kedushat hamakom, holiness of space.

As a result of this, one must bring a korban chatat (sin offering) if one has been absent from the Mikdash for more than seven days. Bringing the korban acts as a way of compensating for our inability to approach the Mikdash, for the tameh state which made it impossible for us to draw near to this holy site, even though tumah is not a sin per se.

For many centuries these concepts have lacked any practical application as the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed and sadly a united Yerushalayim was not under our control. However, this dramatically changed 50 years ago. A mere month ago we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim – it is a momentous 50 years after the reunification of the holy city of Yerushalayim; 50 years since the awesome six days in which Israel saw miracle after miracle as Hashem led us to a spectacular victory; 50 years since the famous announcement of Motta Gur “בידינו הבית הר” – “The Temple Mount is in our hands”. And from that moment on, the kotel was back in our hands; an unimaginable turn of events suddenly became a stark reality, and a most joyous one at that.

Halakhic questions that had not previously been considered, were raised. For instance, how does one become tahor as a prerequisite for going up to Har Habayit? Must we still tear kriya when we arrive at the kotel to daven, if Yerushalayim is once again under our control? This latter question echoes that raised by the Jews of Bavel who came to Yerushalayim to seek out Zecharya the prophet. At the time the Bet Hamikdash was under construction as Darius had granted permission a few years earlier for its rebuilding. The Jews of Bavel sent - "הַ אֶ בְ כֶּה, בַּ חֹדֶ שׁ הַ חֲ מִ שִׁ י” .Av’B Tisha on fast still should they whether querying representatives “Should I weep in the fifth month ?” (Zecharya 7:3) They were asking: must we still fast on Tisha B’Av to remember the destruction of the First Temple when we are shortly to witness the completion of the second?

Zecharya did not answer them with a simple yes or no but relayed an important prophecy from Hashem, the gist of which told them that more valuable than fasting was their heeding all the messages of the earlier prophets regarding social justice and compassion for the poor and vulnerable. An important lesson was being taught then that is no less important to us nowadays.

One has missed the point if one believes that we fast merely to remember what happened. Rather the focus should be on why the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed. Instead of asking must we still fast or must we still tear kriya we should ask: what should we do to ensure that Hashem will bring complete redemption or what does Hashem expect of us? As Rav Menachem Leibtag puts it: “Zecharya would rather the people become ‘participants’ in the process of redemption, rather than ‘spectators’”.

A summary for the people regarding Hashem’s expectations of them is found in the conclusion of Zecharya’s nevua: “Speak truth to one another, execute judgement of truth and peace in your gates, and let none of you devise evil in your hearts against his neighbour, and love no false oath for all these are things I hate”  (17-16:8) 

If we make sure to be honest with each other and spread justice and peace, Hashem assures us in turn that He will rebuild the Bet HaMikdash and the holy city of Yerushalayim. Hashem continues with the following (Ibid 8:19) “Thus says the Lord, the fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth will be times of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts to the house of Yehuda.”

 Finally we hear His answer to the original question of whether we were obliged to fast on Tisha B’Av even though the Bet HaMikdash was almost completed. Then the answer was no as it was going forward - we would not need to fast in the future. Tisha B’Av can become a day of celebration instead of mourning, on the condition that we love and follow truth and peace.

Whilst we may currently tear kriya upon seeing Har HaBayit out of our hands and we are in a state of longing for the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash, this should provoke us to reflect upon what we can do to expedite the process. Hashem assures us that the geula can be complete and He will bring about the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash if we follow the true ideals which He expects of us.

Thus let us hope that this year we will not fast on 17th Tammuz and 9 th Av but rather celebrate them as holidays. Our real goal should be to achieve the standards of social justice which Hashem expects of us so that we may merit to see the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash, on Har HaBayit, once we are worthy of it being truly back in our hands.

We should strive for the day when tumah will be the only reason for our forced absence from the Mikdash, the epicentre of our Jewish life, rather than our own actions causing this distance. And we should dream of a state of living when we can experience the thrill of becoming tahor once again, enabling our return to the Mikdash, and leading to a special close encounter with Hashem.