Thursday, July 18, 2013

zekher lahurban: Finding the delicate balance

In the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple a great change took place in Am Israel. It seemed as if after the destruction and exile it would no longer be able to continue living in a normal manner.

The Talmud relates (Baba Batra 60b):

"When the Temple was destroyed for the second time (68 CE), many Jews became ascetics, depriving themselves from eating meat or drinking wine. Rabbi Yehoshua said to them, 'My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?'

They replied: 'Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that the holy altar is in ruins? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar? '

He said to them: 'If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the bread offering  (lehem hapanim) has ceased too.'

They said: '[You are right! We won't eat bread either] we can manage with fruit.'

'We should not eat fruit either, [he said,] because there is no longer an offering of the first fruits (bikurim).'

'Then we can manage with other fruits [like vegetables and legumes, they said].'

'But, [he said,] we should not drink water either, because the ceremony of the pouring of water (nisukh hamayim) has been discontinued as well.'

To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: 'My sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible... To mourn too much is also impossible, because we should not impose on the community a restriction which the majority of the people are not able to follow."

R' Yehoshua continued and explained to them that the principle is that life must go on. We cannot allow our great mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple to cause a state of eternal national depression. It is therefore impossible to institute that so long as the Temple sits in ruin it is forbidden to consume meat or drink wine. However there are some symbolic things that we will do to recall the destruction of the Holy Temple. For so long as the Temple is in ruins our joy is still not complete.

Therefore, the sages taught that when a person builds a house he must leave a square cubit of a wall without whitewash in remembrance of the Temple's destruction. On his wedding day a groom must place Jerusalem above his highest joy and put ash on his head as a sign of mourning. Likewise, when preparing a celebratory meal, one must leave out one cooked food in remembrance of the Temple's destruction.

Don't miss this!
William H. Seward's travelogue describes Friday Night Services at the Western Wall. 
By Lenny Ben David from Aish