August 2016

Of the Book

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By Daniel Bortz

 

The Nine Days of Mourning concludes on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, when both holy temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, known as ‘Tisha B’av’ (the evening of August 13—day of August 14). On this day in 2010, CNN interviewed me at the Western Wall about the signficance of the day and why we mourn so many years after the fact. Most of my interview didn’t make it on screen, but below is some of what I said.

On one hand, the temple was like a heart. Imagine an ailing person who goes to the doctor complaining of pain in his legs & left arm. He also has a headache and back pain. Exasperated, he wonders what his diagnosis might be. “It’s your heart,” explains the doctor. “Once we cure the damage in your heart and heal its ability to pump blood sufficiently throughout your body, your other ailments will instantly cease.”

The Temple was the heart of the world, its spiritual driving force. The source for the pain, confusion, disharmony and sadness we see in the world, stems from the damage to the temple – the world’s heart. Evil can only exist where G-d is hidden. When there is Divine revelation, negativity dissipates.

Let’s explore deeper by asking two questions: Why do Jews pray every day towards the direction of where the Temple used to be in Jerusalem? If G-d is everywhere, shouldn’t any direction suffice?

The same question can also apply to human interaction. When speaking to a friend, why do we look at their face? Their soul and inner being vitalizes their entire body. Couldn’t we just as easily speak to their hands or feet?

The reason is that the face is where a person’s soul is most revealed. As the famous saying goes: “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” This applies to the Temple as well. Jews face Jerusalem when praying to the Divine, because this is where His Presence is most revealed and felt. A place the Talmud describes as “where heaven and earth kissed.” Miracles were common occurrence; the spiritual and physical were fused perfectly, since the One that transcends both realms called this place home.

The Talmud states that 9/10 of the world’s beauty is found in Jerusalem. Now, I’ve visited stunning scenic spots like the Amalfi Coast, Swiss Alps, Cape Town, and who can forget beautiful San Diego? So how can we say such a statement about Jerusalem, beautiful for sure but still located in the middle of a desert land in the Middle East?

Perhaps the Talmud is referring to the incredible spiritual feeling of Jerusalem, its old city, and temple mount. It’s not just its physical appearance, but the holiness and spiritual beauty that rest within it. As I write this article late into a Jerusalem night, it’s impossible to ignore the energy of this place and its inhabitants. Friday night at the Western Wall is an unforgettable experience of the heart.

But as amazing as it is, how can we merit the building of the third temple and real revelation of goodness in the world? Maimonides gives the answer: “We are to look at the world as an equally balanced scale of good and bad. One good thought, speech, or deed can tip the scales of the world and bring the redemption.”

 

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