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Saturday, January 03, 2004

Tevet 10

What We Are Missing by Yanki Tauber
Chabad Magazine: Who wrote the following?

Moshiach [the Messiah] will restore the kingdom of David to its glory of old, to its original sovereignty. He will build the Holy Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. In his times, all laws [of the Torah] will be reinstated as before; the sacrifices will be offered, and the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year will be instituted as outlined in the Torah. Whoever does not believe in him or does not anticipate his coming, denies not only the other prophets but also the Torah and Moses…

Who said this? An exiled priest who survived the destruction of the Temple? A 16th century Safedian mystic? The Lubavitcher Rebbe?

I remember a discussion I once had about the question of a future Temple. The fellow I was debating claimed that there were different opinions on this in classical Judaism. The "right-wing rabbis", naturally, are for it. But what about an enlightened philosopher like Maimonides? Wouldn't he say that while the Temple may have been a necessary component of religious life in the cultural climate of those times, it is an anachronism in today's world? (My friend was referring to a passage in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed that could be understood this way.)

In reply, I took the 14th book of Mishneh Torah from the shelf and showed him the paragraph cited above, penned by Maimonides himself more than eight centuries ago, where he unequivocally states that the rebuilding of the Holy Temple is an integral part of the future redemption which the Jew prays for and anticipates every day of his and her life.

The tenth of Tevet is the anniversary of the siege of Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple 30 months later. On this day, Jews throughout the world will fast and mourn over the Temple's destruction and pray for its rebuilding. So this is a good time as any to ask: Why do we need a Temple? What exactly are we missing?

The human race has learned a lot over the last 6000 years. We philosophized our way to science, and then science led us through the doorway into mysticism. Along the way, we invented literature, art, romantic love, economics, democracy and psychology.

But we still don't know how to live our lives.

Put twenty people into a room. Chances are you'll find unanimous agreement on the sanctity of life, human rights, equality, free choice, world peace, et al. But let them out of the room to go about their daily lives, and you'll have twenty different opinions on what these things mean and how they should be applied.

In grappling with the daily choices that life presents to us, the very principles on which we agree become the basis for conflicting views and actions on everything from abortion to assisted suicide, Napster to racial profiling, vegetarianism to school prayer, and virtually every other issue to confront us.

Ideas and principles are not enough. They define the big picture, but few conflicts are about the big picture. Most of our conflicts and dilemmas are about the how, the when and the where. It's not enough to know what's right -- we need to have intimate knowledge of rightness, to understand its moods and subtleties, its tastes and partialities.

It's like the difference between being shown a snapshot of a person and being married to that person for twenty years. In the first case, I get a face and a name: if I met this person on the street, I'd know it is him. But do I know how he likes his coffee? Do I know what size shoes he wears or how many hours of sleep he needs? Do I know how he smiles when he is complimented or how he reacts when he is insulted?

It's not enough to know that A is good and B is bad, that X is right and Y is wrong. We need to see goodness up close -- close enough to discern the details. We need to live with rightness, be married to it, feel it in our bones. We need an intimate relationship with G-d.

To a certain extent, it is possible to achieve this intimate relationship in today's world. We have the Torah, in which G-d placed His soul and personality, His aspirations and idiosyncrasies. The Torah is a detailed chronicle of G-d's desires and aversions, His likes and dislikes. The Torah gives us a guide to life that is both spiritual and practical, answering our yearning for intimacy with the Divine while governing our conduct through the physical world.

But the problem is that Torah is a written document. So what do you tell someone who says, "I, too, have a 'Torah', and my tradition has a different interpretation of right and wrong than yours"? And how can we ourselves be sure that we got all the nuances right and the written text is being optimally applied to our lives?

If only there was a place where goodness and rightness actually lived! A place with a street address and phone number. A place where we can physically go to and bring our cousins and neighbors. Look, we'd say, here's truth, that's goodness, this is justice, see? And they'd see.

There was such a place: the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, G-d's home in the physical world. That's what we're missing.
Todah, Rachel.