“Building a ‘New’ Sanctuary”
(updated and revised from Devarim 5764-2004)


by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Devarim, is always read on the Shabbat 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 that occurred throughout the annals of Jewish history.

As we have indicated in a previous parasha study (see Devarim 5761-2001), there is an uncanny relationship between the theme of Tisha b’Av and parashat Devarim. The word אֵיכָה“Ay’chah,” “How,” the opening word of the book of Lamentations, is found in this week’s parasha as well (Deuteronomy 1:12), as Moses exclaims to the Jewish people: “Ay’chah,”–How can I alone bear your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels?

Truth is, that a significant part of the Book of Deuteronomy features Moses recounting the stubbornness of the people since the time of the Exodus and records his ongoing reproofs of the Jewish people. And yet, as the commentators point out, Moses’ reproof begins with a blessing. G-d says to His people, Deuteronomy 1:8,רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ, Behold, I have given you the land. Come and possess the land that the L-rd 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 תּוֹכָחָה, 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 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?

When I first wrote this commentary almost twenty years ago, I noted that the Hebrew year 5764/2004 had been a most challenging year in a series of difficult years for the Jewish people: The terror attacks in Israel, the world-wide rise of anti-Semitic incidents, increasing assimilation and intermarriage–these are things that we can almost count on as de rigeur. If anything, things have only gotten worse. I also noted that, as if to add insult to injury, there had been, of late (in 2004), a spate of uncomfortable and embarrassing issues faced by the observant Jewish community.

I noted then how difficult it is for non-observant Jews, and certainly for non-Jews, 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. One big issue that year was that it was discovered that the very costly wigs (shaitels) worn by observant women that came from India were apparently manufactured with human hair that had been used for idolatrous practices, and had to be destroyed. A second unsettling issue concerned little crustaceans, known as copepods, that were unexpectedly found floating in the New York water supply, making it necessary for observant Jews to filter their water at home and to start checking whether the cup of coffee that they buy is made with acceptable water.

Today, the issues keep piling up for those Jews who wish to live observant lives. The costs of religious education, preschool, elementary, secondary, religious colleges seminaries and advanced yeshivas have gone through the roof. The costs of kosher food, and the expense related to maintaining a kosher home have exploded. The ethical, moral and cultural challenges of the secular society, and the blandishments of secular society are impossible to resist, and many formerly-committed Jews are being lost.

So as the poskim, the religious legal decisors, debate the fine points of Indian hair and NY water, and Jewish leaders seek relief for the prohibitively expensive lifestyle and the modern blandishments, 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 remarkable faith, and to find a Sanctuary in our precious 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, if not more 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 “Nine Days” that begin this week and culminate on Tisha b’Av. It is a challenge, not so much to reprove others, but to improve ourselves. Not so much to chastise the sinners, as to eliminate sinfulness, so that there will be no more sinners.

The words of King David (Psalms 119:165), 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 L-rd our G-d, I will seek your good.” And, as the prayer on Shabbat morning concludes, (Psalms 122:7-9 and 29:11): “May G-d give strength to His people….May G-d bless His people with peace.”

May you be blessed.

Please note: This Shabbat, known as “Shabbat Chazon,” the Sabbath of the Vision (prophecy), is named after the opening word of the Book of Isaiah. The verses Isaiah 1-27, are read as the Haftarah (prophetic reading) on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av (the Ninth of Av).

Much of the haftarah is recited in the mournful tune of Eichah (Book of Lamentations) that is read on the night of Tisha b’Av. The verse in Deuteronomy 1:12, found in the Shabbat Torah reading that begins with the word “Eichah,” is also recited to the tune of Eichah. In addition, many synagogues have the custom to sing the “L’cha Dodi” hymn on the Friday night of Shabbat Chazon to the tune of Eli Tzion, a mournful tune sung at the end of Kinot (Tisha b’Av poems) on the morning of Tisha b’Av.