“Building a ‘New’ Sanctuary”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Devarim, is always read on the week that precedes the Fast of the Ninth of Av (Tisha b’Av), which commemorates the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem and a host of other major calamities. As we have indicated in our previous parasha study (see Devarim 5761-2001), there is an uncanny relationship between the theme of Tisha ba’Av and parashat Devarim. The word “Eichah“–How–that starts the book of Lamentations is found in this week’s parasha as well (Deuteronomy 1:12), as Moses exclaims to the Jewish people: “Eichah“–How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?

The truth is that a significant part of the Book of Deuteronomy features Moses recounting the stubbornness of the people since the Exodus and records his ongoing reproof of the Jewish people. And yet, as the commentators point out, Moses’s reproof begins with a blessing. (Deuteronomy 1:8) “R’ay nah’tah’tee lif’nay’chem et ha’ah’retz.” G-d says to His people, Behold, I have given you the land. Come and posses the land that the Lord swore to your forebears, to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, to give them and their children after them. What greater blessing could there be? In fact, it is likely that Moses begins with this blessing in order to make his subsequent reproof more palatable.

It is far more than coincidental that the word “reproof” in the English language and the Hebrew word “toh’cha’cha,” mean the same thing–to prove, to show logically or emotionally that a person is headed on the wrong path. Just as no one likes to be the object of reproof, few find pleasure in giving reproof, especially since reproof often falls on deaf ears and simply breeds animosity. The Chazon Ish (R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, 1878-1953, Lithuanian scholar and foremost leader of the religious community in Israel) has stated that there is no room for reproof in our age, because no one knows how to properly give reproof. Perhaps it is also because so very few are worthy of giving reproof to others. After all, who is free of guilt?

5764 has been a most challenging year in a series of difficult years for the Jewish people: The terror attacks in Israel, the worldwide rise of anti-Semitic incidents, increasing assimilation and intermarriage–these are things that we can almost count on as de rigeur. But, as if to add insult to injury, there has been, of late, a spate of uncomfortable and embarrassing issues faced by the observant Jewish community.

It is difficult for non-observant Jews, and certainly for gentiles, to appreciate the depth of commitment it takes for an observant Jewish woman to wear her hair covered, or for observant Jews to maintain a kosher diet given popular contemporary practices. But when issues arise concerning whether hair found in shaitels (wigs that observant women wear) may have been used for idolatrous purposes in India, the challenge of commitment becomes even greater. And, of course, the financial challenge, which is always significant, escalates as well. Similarly, when unexpectedly, little crustaceans, known as copepods, are found floating in the New York water supply, making it necessary for observant Jews to filter their water and to start checking whether the cup of coffee that they buy uses acceptable water, the challenge becomes frustrating, and even irritating.

So, as the poskim, the religious legal decisors, debate the fine points of Indian hair and NY water, the issue of finding sanctuary in one’s faith becomes increasingly problematic. Indeed, we all pray for the restoration of the physical Temple in Jerusalem, but what we really need to do during this period of mourning for the Temple is to ask G-d to grant us the ability to spiritually chill out, to calm down, to find tranquility in our faith, and to find a Sanctuary in our belief system. In essence, we need to rebuild the Temple–that is, the spiritual and emotional Sanctuary that resides within each of us. After all, the spiritual Temple is as important to the healthful condition of the Jewish people as the physical rebuilding of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem.

This call to rebuild the Sanctuary is particularly pertinent during the week of Tisha b’Av. It is a challenge, not so much to reprove others, but to improve ourselves. It is not so much of a challenge to chastise the sinners, but is difficult to eliminate sinfulness, so there will be no more sinners.

The words of King David are particularly relevant to us in this quest: “For the sake of my brothers and friends, let me speak peace for you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our G-d, I will seek your good,” (Psalms 119:165). And as the prayer on Shabbat morning concludes: “May G-d give strength to His people….May G-d bless His people with peace,” (Psalms 122:7-9 and 29:11).

May you be blessed.