By Nira Nachliel
כַּאֲשֶׁר הַגּוּף הָרַךְ / מָט לִנְפֹּל / וְהוּא מְגַלֶּה חֶרְדָּתוֹ מִפְּנֵי הַקֵּץ / לַנְּשָׁמָה, / מַצְמִיחַ עֵץ הַשִּׁגְרָה הַנָּמוּךְ / שֶׁאָבָק אֲכָלוֹ / עָלִים יְרֻקִּים פִּתְאֹם.
When the soft body is about to fall and it reveals its anxiety from the end of the soul to the soul, the tree of routine grows low.
This is how Zelda, the Israeli poet, in her wonderful language, portrays the potential blossoming and growth that lie within the very moments of anxiety and uncertainty, and even in the dusty, cramped routine of daily life.
Today, when the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic coincides with the days of mourning for the destruction of the Temples, it seems appropriate to ask: how do we function following the destruction? How do we go on?
In the aftermath of a crisis, it can be difficult to return to a routine way of life. Life seems pointless, and sometimes there is even a sense that pleasure and joy desecrate the memory of the past.
The destruction of the Second Temple, which is commemorated on Tisha B’Av, led to the destruction of the Jewish spiritual center and with it, a way of life, leaving the community with a great problem: How do we proceed from here?
The sages dealt with this issue, and described how the people felt during this terrible period of mourning:
When the last Temple was destroyed, there were separatists who would not eat meat or drink wine.
Rabbi Yehoshua dealt with them: My children, why do you not eat meat?
They said to him: Should we eat meat, which was offered daily as a perpetual sacrifice upon the altar but is no more?!
He said to them: Fine, we shall not eat meat. But why do you not drink wine?
They said to him: Should we drink wine, which was daily poured out on the altar as a libation but is no more?!
He said to them: Fine, we shall not drink it.
He said to them: But if so, perhaps we should not eat bread, because they used to bring the two ceremonial loaves and the showbread in the Temple;
we won’t drink water because that was poured as a libation on the altar;
We won’t eat figs and grapes because they brought these first fruits as offerings during Sukkot!
They were silent.
He said to them: My children, it is not permissible to mourn excessively. Yet neither is it permissible to not mourn at all.
Rather, the Sages said: You should paint your house with lime, but leave a small patch unpainted, to remember Jerusalem. You should prepare all the dishes for a banquet, yet refrain from serving one, to remember Jerusalem. And a woman should put on her jewelry, yet remove a piece, to remember Jerusalem. As it is said (Psalms 137:5): If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither; may my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not place Jerusalem above my highest joy (Psalm 137:5-6). For all who mourn Jerusalem will merit seeing her joy, as it is said: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all who love her; all who mourned her will rejoice with her! (Isaiah 66:10).
Tosefta Sota, 15:5
The story describes the sense of pointlessness the mourners felt without the Temple, who, in an effort to give expression to this feeling, reduced their existence to the bare minimum and denied themselves pleasure. One can understand their desire to hold on to and preserve the memory of the Temple and its various rituals, and give expression to this sacred void, that is, what is ordinary. So, they avoided eating and drinking anything that was traditionally sacrificed on the altar.
Rabbi Yehoshua understands their feelings, but he also understands that it is impossible to live this way. He offers the people another way to live with their grief – to go on living but to leave room for a “memory of the Temple” in their daily lives.
It is important to note those areas of life in which memory is to be preserved, according to the story: a house (“a man paints his home with lime and leaves a small patch”); food (“Prepare a feast but leave a bit on the side”); and a woman (“A woman should put on her jewelry but put some aside”). These spaces echo the Sages’ statement: “A person expands his mind in three ways: a nice apartment and a fine woman and fine tools” (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot, 57:b). These are, most likely, the three basic components of human life, according to the Sages, and in each of them, there must be some way to bring expression to the memory of destruction.
I welcome you to think about those places in time and space in which you take note of and keep memories – memories of good and bad events, both individual and national. Are they also part of your everyday life, part of your routine, a part of your life, or are they defined according to specific times and places, which you have to make a conscious effort to enter into?
The poet, Sivan Har Shefi, offers another way of preserving memory.
When we build the house
Doors facing the four winds
Windows to the purple sunset
To launch the sunrise
We will leave one room empty
And we will stand there each day
Unencumbered by furniture
Close to one another and golden
My wings on you and your wings on me
And life will happen in the other rooms
In the kitchen and in the salon
In the children’s rooms
Noise and rejoicing will be there
And in those rooms, we will grow
But our silent roots
From that room
And the warmth and the light and the Sabbath
Close to one another and golden
Face to face
Sivan Har-Shefi, from “Psalms for a Noisy Day”, HaKibbutz HaMeuchad, 2010, p. 28.
The poet builds a new house in the poem, one that echoes the house, the Temple. This house, filled with life, may, in and of itself be the Temple repaired. But in addition, alongside life’s routine – living room, kitchen and children’s rooms – there is also a “memorial to the Temple”. It is not a wall that is left unfinished and there is no prominent sign of loss and longing. Instead, it is a room that is left empty. The empty room, however, is not a reminder of what’s missing in our lives, but rather, it’s role is to fill the whole house with light, warmth, rest and tranquility, and to inspire us to bring holiness into our lives – in relationships, in parenting and in life.
In the Holy of Holies in the Temple, two cherubs stood facing each other. The cherubs symbolize the holy relationship that a couple should have in their home. This sacredness stems from the holiness that existed in the Temple, which she wants to bring into her life and home, and through it, grow a “tree of routine” in her home. Thus, the poet offers a new and inspiring way of preserving memory in everyday life – through absence, where the potential lies for revitalizing life drawn from ancient roots.