Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Longing for the Redemption

The Three Weeks is a time of national mourning for the Jewish people. Of the numerous tragedies which occurred throughout history during this period, the central one we grieve is the destruction of both Temples; they were destroyed on Tisha B’Av, the culmination of The Three Weeks.

Many of us can compile a long list of what we feel is missing in our lives. However, the loss our souls most acutely feel is of a clear Divine Presence in the world. The Divine Presence is the aspect of God when He manifests Himself in this world. When the Temple stood, God’s glory and providence were visible; we basked in the glow of His love and guidance. In exile, heavy clouds surround us; the guiding light of God’s presence is hidden.

According to Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Bible and Talmud, the Third Temple already exists in Heaven (Tractate Sukkah 41a). When the time comes, God will return it to us. This raises a question. The Torah teaches that we are obligated to return a lost object. Is God not bound by His own law? Why has He not yet returned the Temple and the Divine Presence to us?

Perhaps, the answer is alluded to in Deuteronomy (22:2), where God outlines a scenario when lost objects are not returned right away. “If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then you shall bring it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother’s seeking of it, then you shall return it to him.”

We can interpret this verse with God as the subject, the Jewish people as the brother who lost the item and the Temple as the lost object. “If Your brother is not near You” – if our relationship with God is distant, “and You do not know him” – because we do not share with God our struggles and needs, “then You shall bring it inside Your house and it shall remain with You” – the Temple will remain with God in Heaven, “until Your brother’s seeking of it” – until we realize how lost we are without the Temple and the Divine Presence which rested in it. Then, we will plead with God to return the Temple and His Divine Presence to us. When we do this, God, “shall return it to him.”

There are two ways of asking God for our needs. The first is formal prayer found in the prayer book. These holy and powerful words were composed by the Sages through Divine inspiration. The second, said in addition, is informal prayer, often called Hitbodedut. This is where we speak out loud to God in our native language and share with Him what is weighing on our hearts. When we engage in both forms of prayer, then our relationship with God will no longer be distant; it will be close and nourishing.

If God only knew you based on what you told Him about your struggles and challenges, how well would He know you?

To deepen your relationship with God, each day, spend some time – even if only a few minutes – and speak to God, unburdening yourself to Him.

The Sages teach (Bereishit Rabbah 56:5; 65:10) that when Abraham bound his son Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, the angels pleaded with God to save Isaac. They cried bitter tears and those tears fell into Isaac’s eyes. On Tisha B’Av, we cry over our long and bitter exile. Our tears though, are not only our own; the angels cry with us. Their tears fall into our eyes, mingling with our own, as they ask God to redeem His people.

We cannot rely on the angels alone to plead our case, we must do so ourselves. We must yearn for and seek out the Temple. We must say to God, “We have not forgotten, we have not despaired, and we will not relent. Please return the Temple and Your Divine Presence to us.”

May it be today.

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