Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 13 August 2016 / 9 Av 5776

Response to Ruin

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Carrie

Dear Rabbi,

To be sure, we are witnessing, thank G-d, in our days, a great rebuilding of our People and Homeland. Yet, it seems that most of our Holy places are still in ruin or occupied by others. How are we to relate to this “ruin” and why is it continuing?

Dear Carrie,

Regarding one who travels from the coast of Israel toward the site of the Holy Temple, our Sages instructed (Mo’ed Katan 26a), and such was fixed in Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 461):

One who sees the cities of Judea in ruins says, “Your Holy cities have become a wilderness.” He then rends his garment on the left side near his heart and recites the blessing, “Blessed is the truthful Judge”, without mentioning the name of G-d or His sovereignty.

One who sees the ruins of Jerusalem says, “Zion has become a desolate wilderness”. He then rends his garment again near the first tear.

One who sees the ruins of the Sanctuary says, “Our Sanctuary and place of glory, in which our Fathers praised You, has become a conflagration of fire, and all its treasures have become ruins”. He then rends his garment again near the previous two tears.

This means that our sorrow and mourning over the destruction of Israel so long ago should be as real and palpable as the mourning of the loss of a loved one, G-d forbid, where the heart-rending tragedy is transferred to the garment over our heart, rent asunder. And this is not to be merely a general mourning for the situation, but a detailed tearing of one’s heart over each and every aspect of the destruction and exile.

The great Rabbi Yaakov Emden expressed in very moving terms how we are to relate to the destruction, and why the ruin remains (Siddur Beit Yakov, Shalechet, HaDelek, 6:16):

“It is forbidden for a person to rejoice in this world without bounds. This is for two reasons: Laughter and levity bring a person to immorality, and because of the destruction of our Sanctuary. In this matter it is necessary to protest strongly against light-heartedness. If we were guilty only of this sin, that we do not mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem [and Temple] properly, it would be sufficient to lengthen our exile. And, in my eyes, this is the most likely reason, the most obvious one, the most powerful one, for all the enormous, dreadful, mind-shattering destructions which have befallen us in exile, in all the places of our dispersion. We have been relentlessly pursued. We have not been given any rest among the nations because that mourning has departed from our hearts. As we dwell in tranquility in lands that are not ours, we forget, and we are no longer deeply concerned over her.”

Accordingly, the ruin, desecration, and occupation of our Holy sites continue because we do not fully take to heart and feel truly broken-hearted over it. And precisely in our times when such physical restoration has occurred, and satisfaction and complacency might deflect our attention from the spiritual component of renaissance so sorely lacking, precisely in our times must we heighten our mourning, and simultaneously strengthen our yearning for the final and complete redemption of the People, the Land and the Temple.

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