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The Destruction of the Temple in Jewish Thought
According to Midrash, Jerusalem was the first work of God's creation and became therefore "the nucleus", the foundation-stone upon which the entire universe was created. The very heart of this city was the Temple Beth ha-Mikdash which was consequently the spiritual and national focal point for the Jewish people, including those who, even before A.D. 70, were living
along the shores of the Mediterranean. These two considerations highlight the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish thought and tradition, before as well as after the destruction.
The Temple, then, was the center of spiritual and religious life. It was the throne, chosen by God "to make his name dwell there" (Dt 12:11; 14:23; 16:2, 6), the place where he revealed himself to the people. The Temple was the holy place to which sinners would come for expiation of their fault; those who had received blessings from the Lord, to make thanksgiving; those who had become impure, to obtain the means of purification. Jerusalem, capital of the nation, active center of initiative for political and cultural life, was the city that, on account of the Temple, was consecrated to God.
When the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people found itself in a particularly difficult situation. The return should have been assured, because it was promised by God. But it was necessary to consider the reason why the people had been afflicted so severely, and to take steps to make reparation for the evil that had been done, by making Tshuvah (return), that is a return in spirit and in action along the path laid out from eternity. How clearly the warnings and harsh words of the Prophets now finally understood must have re-echoed in those difficult and sad times. It was necessary to return to the observance of the Torah and of the whole of Jewish tradition. In this way, the word of the Lord became its spiritual defence, more powerful and more sure. The people gathered to study it and to pray over it.
This was the time of the appearance of the Beth ha-Knesseth, the Synagogue. The study of the Torah then came to replace the sanctuary, and prayer substituted for sacrifice.
When trying to select passages relating to the destruction and future restoration of the Temple from a vast rabbinic literature one faces an embarassment of riches. But it can be said that all the passages on this subject have these ideas in common: sin was the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple; Tshuvah, merits, will be the basic elements for their restoration; honesty, study, good works, the activity of man positively engaged in realizing the divine teaching, will be the sure basis for political and religious redemption. The destruction of the Temple elicits in God a deep fatherly compassionand kindness toward the Jewish people. He himself weeps over the misfortunes that have befallen his people.
The Midrash of Shir ha-Shirim says: "He will rebuild the Temple and make his Shekhinah dwell there".
When the Temple was destroyed, its stones were dispersed again according to Midrash to the four corners of the world and upon each of them, even upon only a fragment of them, there arose the synagogues. After the destruction of the Temple, the presence of God, the Shekhinah, went with the people into exile, while not abandoning the Western Wall of the Temple, where it remained in anxious expectancy of return and reconstruction. It is also said that, as after the flood the dove came forth from Noah's Ark to be the guide of those who had escaped, so the Shekhinah guides the Jewish people during the exile until the time of the return to the Promised Land.
So the dispersion was never considered as definitive. This is true to such an extent that even in the everyday life of a Jew the memory of Jerusalem and the Temple is recalled on different occasions. In his daily prayer, the Jew turns toward the East, blesses the Lord who will gather the exiles from the four corners of the world, and will rebuild Jerusalem.
In the prayers each day after meals, Jerusalem and the Temple are always remembered. At the celebration of weddings, the breaking of a glass is to remind the spouses, even at the moment of their greatest joy, of the struggle for Jerusalem and the Temple. "Jerusalem, if I forget you, may my right hand wither! May I never speack again, if I forget you! If I do not count Jerusalem the greatest of my joys!" (Ps 137:5, 6).
Every year on the 9th Av, which is the memorial of the destruction of the first and second Temples, the Jews observe a fast, which lasts from sunset to sunset, as at Kippur.
The third Temple, according to rabbinic tradition, will be the Temple of the Messiah. We will then have a complete and definitive redemption, for Israel and for all mankind. God himself, according to the traditional texts, will see to the work of reconstruction. This final redemption will come about after severe sufferings which the people of Israel will undergo.
According to one midrashic account, "theMessiah will come on the 9th Av". Just as this date was fixed as the day of suffering, so in the future it will be transformed by the Lord into a day of rejoicing, as is written: "I will change their mourning into joy" (Jr 31: 13).