When we return the Torah to the Ark, we chant the words of the following prayer which were written by the Prophet Jeremiah following the destruction of the First Temple:
“Renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21).
According to the teachings which we shall discuss in this letter, the above words can have the following meaning: They are expressing our yearning to once again experience the loving closeness to Hashem and to each other which we experienced in days of old, when we made the pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for Passover, Shavuos and Succos.
The Temple enabled us to experience the intimate closeness of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence that seeks to dwell in our midst. Our tradition finds an early reference to this idea in the following Divine statement:
They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will then dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8)
“I will then dwell among them” – I will rest My Shechinah among them. (Targum Onkelos – the ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah)
Within the Holy of Holies of the Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, and within the Ark were the Tablets of the Covenant which we received at Mount Sinai. Within the Ark was also the Torah scroll transcribed by Moshe, and according to another view, this scroll was placed on a board protruding from the Ark (Baba Basra 14a-b). The joyous pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem therefore led to the renewal of our collective bond with the Torah. This renewal of our shared commitment to the Divine Teaching led to unity; thus, the Jerusalem Talmud explains that the pilgrimages to the Temple inspired all the people to become spiritual chaverim – friends (Chagigah 3:6). Jerusalem therefore became a city where the People of Israel were united together, and the Talmud cites the following commentary of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi:
“The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together” – a city that causes all Israel to become chaverim.” (Ibid)
We are in the midst of a season of mourning. We are mourning over the loss of our unifying Temple which brought us closer together and which also enabled us to experience the closeness of the Shechinah. The destruction of the Temple led to our exile from the Land of Zion; thus, we are also mourning over the loss of the Land. The purpose of this season of mourning is to remind us of what we are missing and to inspire us to begin a process of renewal which will enable us to regain “all” that we have lost.
In order to properly engage in this process of renewal, we need to understand the root cause of the various sins which caused the above losses. In the following prophecy, Jeremiah, the Prophet, reveals the root cause:
“For what reason did the land perish and become parched like the desert, without a passerby? Hashem said: ‘Because of their forsaking My Torah’ ” (Jeremiah 9:12).
In order for us to fully regain the Land of Zion and experience the renewal of the unifying Temple of Zion, we need to renew our commitment to the Torah and its path of mitzvos. This is why Hashem told the Prophet Malachi to convey to our people the following message at the beginning of our exile:
“Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant, which I commanded him at Horeb for all of Israel – its statutes and social laws.” (Malachi 3:22)
The noted commentator, Rabbi Joseph Kara, explains this Divine message in the following manner:
Remember the Torah with its statutes and social laws, as this will enable you to bring the redemption closer.
Before we entered the Promised Land, Moshe reminded us that we were given the Land in order to fulfill the statutes and social laws of the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:5). Moshe also warned us about the exile that will result from the abandonment of the Torah, and in the following passage, Moshe describes how our future return to the Torah will lead to the future return of all our people to the Land:
“It shall be that when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to heart among all the nations where Hashem, your God, has dispersed you. And you will return unto Hashem, your God, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul. Then Hashem, your God, will bring back your captivity and have compassion on you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there Hashem, your God, will gather you in and from there He will take you. Hashem, your God will bring you to the Land that your ancestors possessed” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).
After mentioning our return to the Land, Moshe adds: “You will return and listen to the voice of Hashem, and fulfill all His mitzvos” (verse 8). Our process of renewal therefore leads to the fulfillment of all the mitzvos in the Land that we regained.
May Hashem guide each of us in this process of renewal, and may this renewal lead to the redemption of the messianic age, when the following prophecy will be fulfilled:
It will happen in the end of days: The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2: 2,3)
Be Well, and Shalom,
And have a Chodesh Tov – A Good Month!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen