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From the Destruction of the Temple to the Destruction of the Soul

July 27, 2009

From the Destruction of the Temple to the Destruction of the Soul
By Penina Taylor
Executive Director, Shomrei Emet Institute for Counter-Missionary Studies

This Thursday, we will observe the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. But would you believe that for millions of people in the world it is the happiest – for exactly the same reason that it is for us the saddest? Why?

Tisha b’Av reminds us of our failure as a nation to live up to the standards that G-d gave us. It reminds us that we have been exiled from the land of our inheritance, and that even those of us who physically live in the land are still in exile.

2000 years of exile. 2000 years without a Temple, the place where G-d’s presence physically dwelt among us and illuminated the world. 2000 years of wandering and persecution. 2000 years of being told that we have been replaced as the chosen people, G-d’s firstborn, the apple of His eye.

And for 2000 years the Church has marked the very event that underpins this fact as proof positive that our faith is dead and that G-d Himself has, G-d forbid, moved on to bigger and better things. Proof positive that Jesus was the messiah, that the Jewish people got it wrong and that we are hopelessly lost and headed for hell.

Since the establishment of the Jewish people our enemies have attempted to “prove” that we were not really G-d’s chosen people by destroying us. For, even the Christian world recognizes that if it were to happen, the destruction of the Jewish people would “prove” that the bible was incorrect – this is one reason that Evangelical Christians stand by our side even though they honestly believe that we are all lost and going to hell. Evangelical Christians read our bible and they see that there are promises between G-d and the Jewish people – prophecies of a final redemption and world of perfection and universal acknowledgement of G-d. Were the Jewish people to be destroyed, how could these promises be fulfilled? And if they are not to be fulfilled, and there is no final redemption, then all of their hopes and dreams are also naught.

You see, had the Egyptians managed to destroy us, it would have proven that there was not one only true G-d. Instead, through the plagues, G-d showed them that it was their gods that were not true.

Near the beginning of the 6th century BCE, the Babylonians began deporting the scholars and religious leaders of the Jewish people in an effort to tear us apart. Seeing that the land of Israel and the Jewish people were united in an inexplicable bond, the Babylonians attempted to weaken our strength by severing the tether between us and the land and when decapitating us by removing our best and brightest didn’t work they destroyed our holy temple and removed us physically from the land in the Babylonian exile which occurred in approximately the year 586 BCE.

The Babylonian exile attempted to remove the Jewish people from our learning and instead gave birth to some of the greatest torah minds of all times, the result being the Babylonian Talmud – the writing down of the Oral law handed down to us thousands of years before, now threatening to be forever forgotten. Had the Babylonian exile managed to destroy our faith, it would have “proven” that our faith was not genuine, but instead we were only strengthened.

70 years later, after we were returned to our land, our Temple was rebuilt.

And approximately 270 years later in about 175 BCE, the Seleucids, the inheritors of the Greek empire made their attempt at destroying us through assimilation.

Most of us are familiar with the Hanukkah story – we were forbidden from carrying out even the most basic commandments G-d had given us. At that time Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the Selucids looted the Temple, massacred the Jewish people and in 167 BCE defiled the Holy Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus within it.

As a result of the outlawing of Jewish observance in attempt to destroy the spiritual life of the Jewish people, the concept of the weekly haftorah reading was born and Judas Maccabbee united the Jewish people in a way that perhaps nothing else could have done. Had Antiochus succeeded in his spiritual annihilation of the Jewish people, he would have proven that the Greek idolatrous way of life was superior to the Jewish faith and that the G-d of the Jews was impotent. Instead, against impossible odds, the Jewish nation prevailed against the mighty Hellenists and the Temple once again served as a banner to the world that the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was alive and well.

In 63 BCE the Romans conquered Israel, and many of us are quite familiar with their legacy.

Approximately 133 years after the Romans conquered Israel, the 2nd Temple was destroyed and our people were scattered. As a direct result of Rome adopting Christianity as the State religion, we saw Crusades, Inquisitions, Pogroms, and the Holocaust.

And now, the Roman Legacy has unleashed on us a new plague.

But this one is different. The others were very obvious in their tactics, they enslaved us, they exiled us, they defiled our Temple, they forbade the learning of Torah and the carrying out of our covenant (Brit milah). They outright slaughtered us, they forced us to convert and to eat treif, they destroyed our homes, our cities. Finally, they attempted to completely annihilate us and dehumanize us in the process. After that, the inheritors of this legacy of hate even had the chutzpah to deny it ever happened.

But never before in history have they tried loving us to death!

Christianity from its inception understood that the only way to justify their beliefs as the “Truth” was to get us, the Jewish people, the foundation upon which their faith was supposedly built, to believe in their messiah, to accept their concept of G-d. For, if the Jewish people, the ones from whom the concept of messiah originated, the keepers of the “Word of G-d” deny that Jesus was the messiah, the question must remain in the backs of their minds, “what do we know that they don’t know?”

But until recently, for the most part, Jews (even Jewishly uneducated ones) knew to stay away from Christianity.

Why? Because of our collective memories!

You see, we remember that Christianity was the cause of those crusades, the inquisition, the pogroms, and even in part, the holocaust.

And until 1948, most Christians figured that given our situation – a scattered people with no homeland, a scattered people with an ethnic identity, but certainly not a nation – was pretty good indication that G-d was finished with the Jewish people as a nation.

These theologians figured that all of the scriptures they found in the Jewish bible, and indeed, in their own bibles, which pertain to the Jewish Nation must instead be referring to the Christians. They now were G-d’s chosen people.

However, with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 many of these theologians had to rethink their theology and the concept of premillenial dispensationalism was fuelled. Maybe, just maybe, G-d wasn’t finished with the Jewish people as a nation yet. And if that be the case, then maybe those promises about the nation of Israel and the end of days messianic kingdom really did apply to the nation of Israel.

Not all Christians bought into this concept however, and today we see a new movement of Ephramites – Christians who believe that they are really the decendents of the 10 lost tribes of Israel and that they, too have an equal right to live in the land of Israel as full citizens.

However, those who came to the conclusion that G-d wasn’t finished working with the Jewish nation yet, had yet another problem. Because according to their bible, Jesus isn’t going to come back until the majority of us say, “baruch habaa b’shem Hashem” – that is, until the majority of us accept YOU KNOW WHO as our messiah. When the prophecies of the end times applied to Christians, it wasn’t as big of a deal that the majority of Jews rejected him – a thorn in their side, perhaps, but not a problem. However, with this re-thinking of theology, they were faced with a really big problem – how to get the majority of Jewish people to believe in Yeshu?

Remember that collective memory?

Well, Christianity realized that to get Jewish people to accept him as the messiah, they were going to have to “put a new face on Jesus”. And so, they launched the greatest ever PR campaign – to convince the Jewish people that the Christians of today were not the Christians of the Crusades, that they were not the Christians of the Inquisition, that they were not the Christians of the pogroms or the holocaust.

A careful examination of history showed very clearly that societal pressure, poverty, restriction, and threats of death didn’t convince us to abandon our faith, so they had to use a new method – Real Christians wouldn’t do those things, they told us. So we asked, was Martin Luther a real Christian?

You see, some 300 years before, Martin Luther, a Catholic who realized there were problems with the Catholic Church became the father of the Protestant reformation. And Martin Luther himself realized that there was a problem. He himself said that were he a Jew, having witnessed the way Jews have been treated by Christians throughout the generations, he himself would not have converted to Christianity. So, clever guy that he was, he had an idea. Martin Luther told all his followers to be nice to the Jews, for surely this would entice us to become Christians.

But Martin Luther had a short fuse and 20 years later, growing weary of this game, and finding that the Jews had not responded to Christian kindness by converting en masse as he had expected, gave up, changed his tune and said that they should just round up all the Jews, throw them into the synagogue and set fire to it, burning us alive. He even advocated the physical torture of Jewish women and children.

Well, fast forward to 1948. With the establishment of the state of Israel and clear evidence that G-d wasn’t finished with the Jews yet, clearly the physical annihilation of the Jewish people would be a problem. The solution was quite simple, really. Instead of telling us to stop being Jews, they would embark on what for all intents and purposes amounts to the spiritual annihilation of the Jewish people.

What they have done instead is attempted to convince us that by abandoning Judaism for Christianity we are really becoming better Jews, truer Jews in the process. Instead of forcing us to stop being Jews, THEY are redefining Judaism for us.

In fact, they’ve even redefined the purpose of the Holy Temple. They are now trying to convince us that the main purpose, indeed, the only purpose of the Temple was atonement for sin. And in doing so, they’ve created an unsolvable problem for the Jewish people. Since there is no more Holy Temple, there must no longer be a way of atoning for sin, and we are all in trouble. Thus we need the god-man, Yeshu to come to our rescue and atone for our sins.

But you see, that’s not true either. Yes, sacrifices were a part of the Temple, but only a part, and what has always been required for atonement from sin was not the sacrifices, but what accompanied the sacrifices – a repentant heart. Teshuvah has always been the way a Jew received atonement, when there was a Temple and when there wasn’t, with a sacrifice or without.

Additionally, we must look to what the Holy Temple really represented for us. What exactly was the most important part of the Temple? Was it the altar where the sacrifices were made? No! It was the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place where the physical presence of G-d rested and dwelt among us, for in this place the true purpose of the Temple is revealed. It’s in a relationship with G-d, G-d’s desire to be close to His firstborn – Israel.

So, if there is no need for blood sacrifices in order to have a relationship with G-d, if we therefore do not need a holy temple, why is it that the saddest day on the Jewish calendar marks the destruction of the temple? Why is it that we long for the rebuilding of the Temple?

Why is it that in many ways Judaism seems to be much less “spiritual” and much more “earthly” than other religions? Judaism does indeed teach that there is a world to come, a life of perfection. But how can an imperfect people function properly in a perfect world unless they first have trained by learning how to perfect an imperfect world? Our job on this earth is to work at perfecting an imperfect world, only then can we truly appreciate the perfect world to which we come when our days in this imperfect world are over.

When the Temple existed on earth and the Shechinah, the presence of G-d dwelt physically with man, we were able to experience the perfection of G-d in the midst of this imperfect world, and it required very little work on our part.

Now, to experience perfection in this world requires a tremendous amount of work.

What is a mitzvah? Many people mistakenly define a mitzvah as a commandment – a rule that must be followed. Although that definition may be etymologically correct, it is hashkafically flawed. For all our life we are given but one job – to weave a beautiful tapestry, a garment with which we will be clothed when we finally do get to experience the world to come.

And unlike the slaves in Egypt who were eventually forced to gather the materials of their task themselves – they had to gather their own hay and dig their own clay; we are given the raw materials to accomplish this task. A multi-colored tapestry, made of 613 different colored threads is what our life’s work is. Not all 613 colors are available to us all; we each have a unique combination of colors with which to weave our tapestry and each one, each strand is what we call a mitzvah.

How appropriate then, that G-d gave us a commandment consisting of threads as a visual reminder that this is our work. It says in the third paragraph of the Shema,

(38) “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners.
(39) And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined,
(40) and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.
(41) I am Hashem your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am Hashem your God.”

Numbers 15:38-41

For now, we fast. But we know that it will not always be so. For we know that when the Messiah comes, this day will turn into a great celebration. It says in Zechariah 8:19-23

(19) “Thus says Hashem: ‘The fast of the fourth month, The fast of the fifth, The fast of the seventh, And the fast of the tenth, Shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts For the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.’

Yes, we know how all this is going to end, we’ve read the script. And in the end, instead of our spiritual enemy telling us how we are wrong, it says, continuing in Zechariah:

(20) “Thus says Hashem: ‘Peoples shall yet come, Inhabitants of many cities;
(21) The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before Hashem, And seek Hashem. I myself will go also.”
(22) Yes, many peoples and strong nations Shall come to seek Hashem in Jerusalem, And to pray before Hashem.’
(23) “Thus says Hashem: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” ‘

No, its not here yet, for now we are still fasting, but its coming!

And so, we wait longingly for that day when perfection will come to Earth. Some of us may not merit to see perfection come, some of us will go first to perfection. And while we are here, we have a job to do, weaving our tapestry, a beautiful garment for us to wear to the feast that awaits us, all the while sounding to call to our brethren who have grown weary in the task, who have given up all hope or have succumbed to the lies of our spiritual enemy.

But do not lose hope, Oh Israel for Hashem says in Yeshayahu 60:14 –

Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, And all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; And they shall call you The City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

May we all here merit to see that day soon, in our days!

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