This week marks the beginning of a 3 week period of mourning culminating in Tisha B’Av, the day when both Temples were destroyed.
Our sadness over the loss of the Temple is not about mourning over smashed bricks and destroyed buildings,but about the loss of the connection and relationship that those buildings, the Temples, facilitated and nurtured. The Temple was a point of fusion – where spirituality, in its true sense, found expression in a physical world. That expression helped to create an unclouded perception of truth and reality for all those who encountered its spiritual grandeur. By visiting the Temple at least three times a year1, one would return to daily life with an invigorated sense of purpose and direction. The Temple provided the necessary clarity to ensure one’s relationship to truth and spirituality was a naturally internalised one.
Our sense of loss at the absence of the Temple, and desire for the rebuilding of it, is borne out of an intense yearning for a life characterised by that same degree of clarity which ensures we can live with an intimately personalrelationship with Torah and G-d. Without that point of connection, we live in a world where we struggle to fully relate to many of our most fundamentally held beliefs from day-to-day. We believe, for example, in a G-d who oversees and directs every element of creation at every moment, yet we find it almost impossible to live with a constant awareness of that belief.
We know that every good or bad thing that happens to us in the course of our day is a meaningful message from G-d from which we can benefit. But it is only when something really ‘significant’ happens in our lives that we actually begin to sense that.
We are left then with a major problem. For our beliefs to be truly meaningful and defining in terms of who we are and how we live, they must be fully integrated on an intellectual and emotional level. This integration requires the sort of unclouded and easily accessible experience provided by the presence of a Temple. Yet we live in an era where we lack such an ‘access point’, where we struggle to solidify and incorporate our belief in a spiritual reality in a world which often appears anything but spiritual.
This throws up a major challenge – how can one rationally justify retaining an unswerving 100% commitment to his most fundamentally held beliefs at the very same time that he struggles to solidify and integrate them? Is there not a certain ‘leap of faith’ involved in being required to subscribe with absolute certainty to a belief, or beliefs, which, at the very same time, one is struggling to fully internalise for himself1?
The answer to this ‘problem’ lies in making a distinction between what constitutes a leap of faith and is therefore unacceptable, and what constitutes a calculated and rational decision on the basis of all available evidence.
Imagine someone is driving on an unfamiliar route and arrives at a roundabout. He knows one exit will take him to his intended destination but has absolutely no idea which one it is. He arbitrarily opts for one exit, and claims with absolute confidence that he believes he has taken the correct one.
Assuming he is not lying, there may be any one of a number of motivating factors that have led him to this belief – it may have been the turn-off offering the least traffic, or the nearest service station where he can get a coffee etc. Either way there is no rational evidence to justify his belief, and his conviction is totally without foundation. This is what we may equate with a leap of faith – opting to believe something because one wants it to be true, rather than because logic and rationale point to its truth.
Now imagine a slightly different scenario; this time the driver is extremely confident as to which exit to turn off on the roundabout. He recognises the road and remembers being instructed to take this particular turning. At the same time his lack of familiarity with the journey leaves him with an element of uncertainty in his decision. He is, let’s say, 85% certain that this is indeed the correct turn he’s about to take.
What should he do? Obviously in this case he should take the turn. And with what degree of conviction? 100%. He should take that exit with 100% confidence and conviction that his decision is the most sensible and rational one to make based on the evidence at hand. This does not mean that as he continues his journey he should not be constantly on the look-out for further evidence to either verify or undermine his decision. But it does mean that, in the absence of the opportunity to stand still indefinitely1, opting for the 85% option makes 100% sense.
This is exactly the situation we find ourselves in as we seek to develop an integrated relationship to our most central and crucial beliefs. As we have said, this is a life-long task made only harder by the absence of a Temple to serve as a beacon of spiritual light in a world often characterised by darkness. This task is not just optional, but an obligation and responsibility for any thinking person. Ultimately a belief is only truly ours when we are able to embrace it with an absolute clarity and conviction comparable to the strength of our ability to attest to our own existence. Yet, at the same time, this does not and can not mean that we do not, with total justification, confidently commit to these most crucial beliefs even as we strive to reach that point of absolute clarity.
1 For the 3-foot festivals, Pesach, Shavuous and Succos, even those living outside of Israel were obligated to make the long journey to the Beis HaMikdash. In addition to this, many would take the opportunity to come to the Beis HaMikdash throughout the year.
1 This problem is, to a degree, an inescapable reality of this world. G-d specifically created a world where He remains, at least to the spiritually unrefined eye, somewhat hidden. The word ‘olam’ – world – shares the same root as the word ‘hidden’ (HeElEm) in Hebrew. Our task is to uncover and reveal the spiritual dimension which lies beyond, and at the source of, all physical existence. The presence of a Temple, where those spiritual roots were much more manifest made that task far more straightforward. It is the loss of that manifestation of spirituality in the world which we mourn and pray three times a day for the replacement of.
1 Remaining stationary until one has clarified where to go is not an option. Whilst in the case of a simple car journey one may have such an option, in life one does not. Time does not stop for anybody. There is no such thing as refraining from making a decision for a day, or a month, or a lifetime. Indecision too represents a major decision.