Why are we mourning for the loss of the Temple, Beit Hamikdash, if it was such a long time ago?
The month we start this Shabbat, July 10, is called Av. It’s the month in the Jewish calendar which is considered to be the month of mourning because we lost the two temples and many additional tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time.
As such, there are laws and customs we follow during this time to help us feel the sense of mourning more strongly. Still, we must ask ourselves, do we really feel the great loss? Can we even wonder, why should we feel the loss if it was so long ago?
In the news we always seem to be defending the right for Israel to exist or defending what it does to protect itself. Maybe the news or the people attacking us are correct? Why do we stand up for Israel? Why is it so important to us?
In the recent Torah portions, we read about the Jewish people getting ready to enter the Land of Israel after they were in the desert for 40 years. But even once they arrived in the land, there were other nations living in the land and they had to fight wars for 14 years to conquer it. If so, perhaps historically the land of Israel was really not the Jewish People’s first, since as we see they were not the first to settle the land. Maybe we should give the land back to them?
The answer ultimately lies in the first Rashi of the Torah, in Bereshis (1,1) in the name of the Midrash. The reason why the Torah starts with the creation of the world and not with the laws that govern a Jew’s life, is because the Torah is telling us God created the world. Why is it important that God created the world if the Torah has so many important laws to teach? The Midrash says, “If the nations of the world will say to the Jews, you are thieves because you conquered the land from the seven nations, we can answer, God created the whole world and he gave the land to whom he chose and when he wants to give it to them God can and when he wants to give to us God can.”
This always amazes me, as this was written thousands of years ago and seemingly nothing has changed. We must remember this answer with conviction. The Creator chose to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and that is why it’s called the Promised Land. It’s only ours because it was given to us by the Creator.
Why did God choose to give us this land?
It is the land where God chose for the Jewish people to be able to fulfill mitzvot, indeed, many mitzvot can only be fulfilled in Israel. It’s God’s special land. Our reason to live and connect to the land of Israel today is still for the same reason as it has always been: It is a place of service to God, not just a land of escape and refuge for the Jewish People.
Once we fulfill the will of God in this land it becomes the Eretz Hakodesha, holy land, a special place of spirituality. That is its purpose. This is what we now mourn during this month, that we still don’t have the land the way it should be. We are missing the ability to serve our Creator with the temple service. We are missing the clarity of God’s shechinah, relevance and connection.
After we understand why we are defending the Land of Israel, its purpose and the opportunity it gives us, we need to know the exact borders of the land. That is in this week’s Torah portion, which explains the exact borders that are holy and where we can fulfill the will of the creator.
May we merit to live within the borders of the Land of Israel in a time when all fighting will stop and all nations will be at peace with the Jewish People. Then we will be free to serve our Creator in the best, most complete
way possible. JN
Rabbi Gavriel Goetz is head of school at Yeshiva High School of Arizona.