Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 2 August 2014 / 6 Av 5774

Tisha B'Av

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Remaining Together

“Though I have removed them far away among the nations, and though I have scattered them among the lands; yet I have been for them a ‘small sanctuary’ in the lands where they arrived.” These are the places of worship which remain with the Jewish People throughout their exile.

From the beginning of our journey as a nation, the heart and soul of our existence has been the fact that G-d’s presence has resided with us. In fact, while still wandering in the desert we were commanded to build a Tabernacle (Mishkan) which served as the central and unifying dwelling of the Jewish nation, as it is written: “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them.”

Later, in the Land of Israel, the nation was blessed with the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), which was surrounded by open miracles. The purpose of ascending to the Temple was both to see and to be seen. Not only did we experience seeing G-d’s presence, but G-d also desired in seeing us. In addition, one would see the holy Priests and Sages, learning and becoming greatly inspired until the next visit. Yet from a national and world perspective, the daily services in the Temple represented the spiritual lifeline for both the Jewish People, as well as for the rest of the world. The Temple served as the link between Heaven and earth. All of the prayers ascended from there, and from there all blessing descended, spreading out to the world.

However, as the sun must set and bring on the darkness, so too the high point of the Jewish People secure in their Land would be taken away from them as a result of their sins. The Sages and Prophets of that era foresaw through prophetic vision that a long and unbearable exile was approaching. How was the Jewish nation, a sheep scattered among seventy wolves, going to survive?

“For which is a great nation that has a G-d Who is close to it, as is the Lord, our G-d, whenever we call to Him (in Prayer)?”

Where can one go today to see and to be seen, to hear and to be heard? To the house of G-d, to the Beit Haknesset (Synagogue), where the Divine Presence still remains, even today.

The Men of the Great Assembly established organized prayer to be said three times daily, corresponding to the offerings of the Temple service of yore. These prayers were to be said in public gatherings wherever Jews would find themselves. Without our Land or the Beit Hamikdash, the new central home for the Jewish People would become the Synagogue ― the “small Sanctuary”. A home to G-d as well, there He would remain with us, as it is taught: “Wherever there are ten Jews gathered together, the Divine Presence is among them.” Throughout the ages, through the suffering and the betrayal of each passing generation, the Beit Haknesset has been our refuge. A place to gather, whether in times of crisis or in times of joy. Through it all we have had a home to share, and there we are never alone.

It is hard to forget the memories of sitting on the floor in the darkened Synagogue, listening to the melancholy melodies of the kinot lamentations with special Tisha B’Av melodies. We experience our past through song, knowing in our hearts that one day, things will change in an instant, and the tune will change to a song of triumph and redemption. We will arise with laughter and dancing at the end of our journey, when we will be home once again.

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