Selected Sermon/Article
2008-07-26 Matos 5768 by Rav Zeev Smason
Preparing for Tisha B'Av: Living in a Time of Con
Preparing for Tisha B'Av: Living in a Time of Confusion.

Has anyone noticed that the price of gas went down this past week? Unless you don't own a car, I'll bet you noticed. I was driving Thursday when the sign on the gas station caught my eye: Unleaded for $3.76 a gallon.

'Wow', I thought to myself. $3.76. That's 20 cents less than the last time I looked.' And at that moment, I noticed a slight smile appear on my face and I actually felt a degree of simcha inside myself.

But a few moments later, my mind caught up to what my heart was feeling.

'Wait a minute. Not so fast.' I told myself. 'Wasn't it just last summer that gas cost about a dollar less then what it's selling for now -- even at this 'great price of $3.76 a gallon?'

The conversation continued. "And isn't it true that if you would have known last summer that this summer gas is selling for $3.76 a gallon, you would have plotzed? So what are you so happy about now?"

I'm quite a conversationalist with myself, aren't I?

There is an answer to the question of 'why we're so happy' when gas is selling at $3.76. As incredible as it seems, many or most of us have resigned ourselves -- to a degree -- to gas at $4.00 a gallon. We have become used to it. We forgot what we were paying for gas last summer. Life at $4.00 a gallon has become so normal, that $3.76 gasoline has become a cause of joy!

We can get used to just about anything, can't we?

It's been a long time since we had the Beis HaMikdash -- the Holy Temple. So long, in fact (almost 2,000 years) that --- like expensive gasoline --- as a people we've gotten used to life without the Beis HaMikdash. Not only do we not feel what we're missing, but we don't even know what we're missing.

We find ourselves in 'Bein HaMitzarim' -- known otherwise as the 3 Weeks. The focus of this period of time (which began with the fast of 17 Tammuz and culminates two weeks from this evening with Tisha B'Av) is, in large part, the loss of both the first and the second Temples.

To bring ourselves to the point where we feel what we're missing is a very tall order. I'd like suggest, however, that what our task is during this time is to at least minimally know what we're missing by not having the Beis HaMikdash around. I'd like to suggest, then, that one of the most noticeable differences in our post-Beis HaMikdash life in exile, is the absence of clarity that existed during the time the Temple stood.

We have an absence of clarity today and are living in terrible confusion. At least, compared to the way we lived when the Temple stood.

The presence of the Almighty was almost palpable when the Beis HaMikdash was standing. We had prophets and prophecy. Not only would the prophets tell us what Hashem wanted for the Jewish people; but you could even go to a prophet if you lost your car keys or eyeglasses, and he'd tell you where they were.

Well, maybe not car keys or eyeglasses. But Tenach records a case where someones donkey wandered away, and he went to the prophet to ask where it went.

The spirit and presence of G-d was with us when the Temple stood. The mishna in Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) (5:5) tells us that during the first Temple,, there were ten open miracles that anyone who came to the Beis HaMikdash could see. Amongst the miracles were: sacrificial meat never spoiled, no flies were ever seen, wind never moved the pillar of smoke that came from the altar, no one was ever harmed by a snake or scorpion in Jerusalem and although millions of Jews came to Jerusalem on the Shlosh Regalim (Pesach, Shevous and Succos) there was always room for everyone to lodge.

We lived with prophecy and miracles back then. We had a much closer relationship with Hashem. And there was greater clarity and certainty about what our purpose in life was for, and what we as a people needed to be doing.

Let me give you one example of the type of confusion that exists in the Jewish world today.

Have you ever wondered how many types of Jews there are? I don't mean American, Israeli or Russian Jews And I'm not referring to Sefardic or Ashkenazic Jews, or ....Orange Jews (Juice). What I mean to ask is how many different denominations or religious groupings are there are for Jews today?

I can't say that I thought much about these things when I was a kid. However, it seems to me that when I was growing up there were always four types of Jews: Orthdodox, Conservative, Reform, and those who didn't go to synagogue or temple.

I did a bit of research this past week, however and I think you'll be surprised by my findings.

I looked at three Jewish dating sites on the Internet to see the different ways Jews categorize themselves. I would have looked at more sites, but I was afraid my wife Chani would find out (that's a joke, by the way). I discovered that there are an amazing number of categories that Jews use to define themselves. Here are the 'categories of Jews' that I found:

Unaffiliated, Secular, Reconstructionist, Underconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Conservadox, Traditional, Traditional & Growing, Modern Orthodox Liberal, Modern Orthodox Machmir (strict), Yeshivish Modern, Yeshivish Black Hat, Chassidic, Carlebachian,, Orthodox (frum), Orthodox (ba'al tshuva), Shomer Mitzvot, Spiritual, Will tell you later, willing to convert, and finally -- 'another stream'.

Leaving out 'willing to convert', I count twenty one different types of Jews. And it seems that at least one important category was left off these lists. When people ask me what type of Jew I am, I tell them that I'm an 'FBC.' They will then invariably have a puzzled look on their face, until I tell them that 'FBC' stands for 'Frum But Cool.'

How many categories of Jews do you think there were during the time of Avraham? During the time of Moshe? During the time of Yehoshua, of King David, and King Solomon?

Just one.

Things did begin to deteriorate somewhat after King Solomon. Sure, there were the Hellenized Jews, Tzadukim, Christian Jews, Karaites, and a few other groups depending on the time. But there weren't anywhere close to twenty one 'types of Jews' for the vast majority of our history as there are now.

There was -- certainly compared to today -- achdus and unity. There weren't letters and articles being written in local Jewish newspapers about the religious intolerance of one of group of Jews toward each other. There wasn't the name calling, the dismissivness, and the lack of of Ahavas Yisrael. At least not until the end of the Second Temple period of time. And then, what happened? Because of that intolerance and lack of achdus and unity, the Temple was destroyed.

The Temple standing and G-d's presence in our midst means we only see Jews as being more or less observant, and more or less knowledgeable; there are not twenty one categories of Jews. . When the Temple stood and G-d's presence was in our midst, we didn't have a Neturai Karta that met with our enemies, a government of Israel that considered giving up parts of Jerusalem to those who pledged to destroy us or that forcibly expelled its own citizens out of Gush Katif. When the Temple stood and G-d's presence was in our midst, we didn't tolerate domestic and sexual abuse, and we had no assimilation nor intermarriage.

What we're missing by not having the Temple, is, in a phrase: personal and national self-fulfillment And if we can't feel what we're missing, at least we can know it.

I'd like to conclude my remarks with a story.

"Why are all these people sitting on the ground and crying?" This was a natural question for six-year old Chaim to ask his father on his first visit to the Western Wall — the Kosel — on Tisha B'Av

"Well, my son, right next to the place we are standing there once stood the holiest building in the world, the Beis Hamikdash. This is where Jews served Hashem with sacrifices throughout the year, and here all Jews came at least three times a year. It was the most magnificent building ever seen. It stood on the mountain where our forefather Avraham brought his son Yitzchak and was prepared to offer him as a sacrifice to Hashem. Surrounding this Har Habayis (Temple Mount) were four walls. But because of our sins the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed on this day almost 2000 years ago, and all that is left of the walls around the mountain upon which it stood is this Kosel. Isn't that enough of a reason for Jews to cry?"

With the eternal optimism which is such a beautifully innocent part of childhood, Chaim looked up at his father, whose eyes too were filled with tears, and said:

"But Abba, don't we believe that Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash and the walls around it will someday be rebuilt? Look at it this way — one wall is already up, so we only need to put up three more!"

The bad news is that we live in a time of profound confusion, and three of the walls of the Temple are down. Like the price of gasoline that drops a few cents in price, we don't even know what we're missing today. As Tisha B'Av approaches, however, there is some good news; one wall remains standing and we only need to put up three more. Let's get started rebuilding the Temple through ahavas chinam -- 'causeless' love for our fellow Jews.