Tisha B’Av looking forward – to the third and last Temple
Published in the Davar newspaper in 5751
It was difficult for me to fast on Tisha B’Av. It was not related to any physical distress. As a traditional Jew I am used to fast days. The difficulty was derived from the internal conviction that the act of mourning on Tisha B’Av has deficient basic relevancy, which reflects historical blindness and symbolizes the atrophy of religious thinking.
How is it possible to justify lamentation over the Temples that were destroyed thousands of years ago when around us the Third Temple is growing gloriously? Rabbi Akiva laughed when he saw the ruins of the Temple, because he believed that it would rise again. And we, even more so, are obligated to push aside the feeling of mourning.
If for two thousand years the Jewish people fast due to an internalization of its historical fate, it would be an ironic error if we continue to fast as commanded by the scholars, while disregarding the fact that we are writing history in our times. If Jewish tradition is significant in our eyes, Tisha B’Av should be redefined.
The State of Israel is the Third Temple on three levels: the actual level – the achievements of the State overtake immeasurably the achievements of the First and Second Temples. In Israel at present there are more Jews than there have been at any time, and it is more developed than it has ever been, Jerusalem neighbourhoods stand on the rocky hills that surrounded Solomon’s Temple in its glory, Israel is a strong independent entity, which fulfils an important role in the international arena. Only distorted nostalgia could cause us to say: “Let the days be as they were”. Only a fundamentalist, such as the worshipers of the golden calf in our times, yearn to construct a building on the Temple Mount, whereby the address “the Third Temple” is inscribed on its post box.
The self perception – the State of Israel believes that it is the embodiment of the Third Temple and that it establishes all the Jewish messianic aspirations in history. If this was not the case it would not have come together, contrary to any criterion of national interest, to save Ethiopian Judaism. The very role that Israel has taken upon itself, to be a national home for all the Jews demonstrates this.
On the eve of the American air attack on Iraq, when the people of Israel waited, nervously, for the fall of the Scud missiles on its towns, the Prime Minister tried to calm matters with these words: “We are even stronger than the House of David”. What a strange comparison, unless this embodies an assumption that the people of Israel – secular and religious, right and left – indeed understand that the historical situation today is similar to the one at the time of the First and Second Temples as compared to any other era in Jewish history. If Shamir had said: “We are not in Germany of 1919. We have a state that will protect us”, we would not have taken him seriously. Israel’s political stances also express this perception. Would it have been so insistent on the issue of Jerusalem, if there had not been a consensus in the nation that considers Jerusalem as the capital of the Third Temple?
Our critical place in history – it is not possible for another Jewish resurrection. Therefore the State of Israel is the Third Temple. The destruction of the State means the end of the Jewish people. Anyone who survives will not attempt to build a new temple unless he tries to assimilate in any chance society.
What lesson can we take from destruction of the Temple that will be able to serve as an incentive for an additional attempt at resurrection? Should we have taken the words “the right was right and we were guilty of criminal naivety?” or “the left was right and we missed the opportunity for sustainable peace?” Our very inability to safely differentiate today, even though we are searching for it desperately, demonstrates that it shall be no more than wisdom after the event. The Diaspora shall be a partner to this absolute demoralization and shall accelerate the assimilation into the open society. Only the ultra orthodox shall survive for a while after the destruction, and it is possible that their roots will become stronger following the tragedy. However for how long can this anti-historical trend continue?
It is told that when the line in the Golan Heights collapsed at the start of the Yom Kippur War, Moshe Dayan reported to Golda Meir: “The Third Temple has fallen”. This story entered the Israeli consciousness by the power of modern myth, that Dayan’s words and the symbol of strength that he used was a basic truth as regards our very existence, that is: even at this moment, in which we are facing the point of climax of Jewish history – everything still remains hanging in the balance.
Here is the key to the redefinition of Tisha B’Av. On Tisha B’Av in our times we must internalize the recognition that we have built here the Third Temple and that the Fourth Temple will never be established. Instead of dealing with lamentations for the past, it is appropriate that Tisha B’Av reawakens us and our self examination as regards our future. The message of Tisha B’Av in our times should be – the vision of the prophets and the Zionism that is taking place under the sword of Damocles, and the fate of the Jewish people has still not been resolved.