On the Ninth of Av we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which was twice destroyed on this date each time leading to exile for the Jewish people.
Why were the Temples destroyed? One of the names by which the Temple is called in the Torah is mishkan (“dwelling”).1 The Sages point out that the Hebrew word mishkan is related to the word mashkon, which means “collateral.” This indicates that when the Temples are taken from us they are actually being held by G-d as a collateral against the payment of a debt we owe Him.
But what remains of the destroyed Temples to be held as “collateral”? What is the debt whose payment will trigger the Temples’ return to us?
The Temple is not just the buildings that stood on a hilltop in Jerusalem for a total of 830 years. The buildings are the physical manifestation of a particular reality. That reality is what we call the “Dwelling of Shechinah” the accessible, available and palpable presence of G-d’s essence in our world.
A fundamental principle of Judaism articulated in this week’s Torah reading is, “There is none else besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35). This does not just mean that there is only one G-d who has power in the cosmos. It means that there is only one reality and that is G-d. Everything in the universe is an extension of G-d’s being, and nothing else. However, as in a one-way mirror, G-d experiences the truth that is G-dliness and we do not. We only see our reflection and imagine that we exist as independent, monadic entities.
The purpose of the Torah is that we should live in this world and reveal the truth that it is G-dliness, thereby turning our mirrored existence into a transparent one. Each mitzvah we do reveals the presence of the One in ordinary life. When our lives reflect this reality, G-d enables us to not just believe and obey, but to also experience His presence.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, it housed the “Dwelling of the Shechinah.” When we entered the Temple and worshipped or brought an offering there, we experienced G-dliness as the essence from which the entire fabric of the universe is woven. Our very bodies felt enwrapped in a garment of G-dly light; the very stones of the Temple communicated their G-dly nature to us.
When, as a people, we moved away from the Torah, away from a life that acknowledges G-d’s presence in each detail of our existence, the result was that we could no longer see the Shechinah in the Temple. If we do not live this reality, then we cannot experience it, and the structure of the Temple becomes a shell without its soul. If nothing is happening in the computer’s CPU, there will be no image on the screen. Our personal life is the dynamic energy of the Temple; the building is just the “screen.” If our personal, inner Temples are not functioning, there can be no manifestation in the external, physical Temple. The Temple as a physical structure no longer has a function we can access.
G-d therefore takes the physical Temple as “collateral.” G-d is telling us: when you have the light to fill this building, I will restore it; when you are ready to live the reality that all is one with Me, the Temple will be rebuilt. When you make good on the deficit of truth in your lives, I will return the collateral so you may make rightful use of it.
Over the course of our long and dark exile, we as a people have done much and already made many heavy payments in our devotion to the truth of the Torah. Surely our debt is very close to being discharged, and just a little more effort on the part of each of us will, G-d willing, bring about the rebuilding of the Temple and the era of universal amity that will follow, when “My House (the Temple) will be a House of Prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
May we all see this speedily in our time.
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe is Permanent Scholar-in-Residence to Chabad at Harvard, and Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law in New York, NY. Rabbi Yaffe previously served as spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Synagogue in West Hartford. He has lectured and led seminars throughout North America, as well as in Europe and South Africa.
This article is reprinted from Chabad.org.