A Nation Searches for Significance
By Moshe Feiglin
Translated from Ma’ariv’s NRG website
For some reason, Tisha B’Av has managed to break out of the walls of religion and knock on the door of Israeli culture. Something about this day ‘clicks’ with many Israelis.
What is that something?
A search for identity?
Sorely lacking unity?
Fear of baseless hatred?
And perhaps – the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple)?
All of the above are correct and there are probably a few more correct answers, as well. But I would like to propose an answer that is out of the ordinary:
Tisha B’Av is more relevant to non-observant than to observant Jews. In truth, the religious Jews do not want the Beit Hamikdash, while the non-observant do. Or more precisely, there is something about the Beit Hamikdash that is more natural to the non-observant than to the observant.
Sounds preposterous? Here are some statistics:
Three years ago, just before Tisha B’Av, Israel’s leading Ynet website, along with the Gesher NGO, publicized a poll of 516 Israelis taken by the Panels polling company. The headline on Ynet read: 64% of Israelis want the Beit Mikdash.
When the participants were asked if they would like the Beit Hamikdash to be rebuilt, 64% answered in the affirmative. Of them, 33% said they wanted the Beit Hamikdash very much and 31% fairly want the Beit Hamikdash. 36% of the participants answered in the negative. Of them, 31% do not want the Beit Hamikdash very much and 5% do not want it at all. Analysis of the religious orientation of the participants reveals that not only the ultra-orthodox and religious anticipate the Beit Hamikdash, 100% and 97% respectively. 91% of the traditional and 47% of those who define themselves as secular also answered that they want the Beit Mikdash.
Two years ago, the Knesset Channel asked the same question in a much less professional manner. 49% of those who responded to their internet poll said that they would be interested in the Beit Hamikdash.
Clearly, the answers to these polls are coming from a place detached from daily fears. If the participants had been asked if they would like the Beit Hamikdash to be built now, the answers would probably have been quite different.
Nevertheless, I am meeting more and more completely non-observant Israelis who simply say: “I want the Beit Hamikdash.” Considering the fact that there is almost nothing that has been used to frighten the Israeli public and turned into an object of loathing more than the Beit Hamikdash, there is definitely something in these surprising figures that points to a very strong, essential connection between a broad spectrum of non-observant Israelis and the Temple Mount and Beit Hamikdash.
They connect to Tisha B’Av because they long for a different essence. They long for the culture of the Third Temple.
The very nature of religion that was enlisted to preserve our national identity has, for all intents and purposes, replaced the Beit Hamikdash. Religion and the Beit Hamikdash are mutually exclusive. That is why the Beit Hamikdash is accepted more naturally by the non-observant.
What was the ideal, the tremendous surge of energy that brought the State of Israel to life against all odds? What was the spirit that restored the Nation of Israel to history? It was the shirking of religion that was justifiably identified as the noose that kept the Jews hanging outside of reality – and from a nationalist perspective, would never allow them to connect to it.
When the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, the nationalist Jewish connection to reality was severed. The Beit Hamikdash – the perfection of reality to reflect G-d’s sovereignty over the world – is our connection to reality. It is the ultimate purpose of our national existence and it is the axis around which the lives of the individual and the collective revolve. The Beit Hamikdash is the focal point of Jewish time: the trice-annual ascent to Jerusalem for the holidays and the entire cycle of life are defined by it. Jewish sovereignty without the Beit Hamikdash is like a country without a capital, without a parliament, without national holidays; like a body without a heart. The Beit Hamikdash was and still is the beating heart of our Nation, the ultimate purpose of its existence and above and beyond everything else – the authentic connection (not the religious connection) to our Father in Heaven.
It is to G-d’s home on earth that we come on the holidays; it is to Him that we come home with a small gift: the first fruits or the Passover sacrifice. It is to Him, to our Father and King, that we come to request help when we are in trouble; on Him Whom we rely in the face of external threat. It is the Beit Hamikdash that charts our ethical path when relating to widows, orphans and the stranger in our midst. The Beit Hamikdash is the home that invites guests from around the world and that heralds a new message to all mankind. This house is open for the prayers of all nations: “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This is the authentic, genuine peace plan for which humanity yearns, deep down. When the children come home, guests can also be received. And the guests are waiting:
“We dreamt of a place where the new Book of Books would be written as a preface to world redemption; for you are, after all, a treasured nation. The world had great expectations, but look what you have done.” (Professor Ze’ev Tzachor in an interview with Meir Uziel in Makor Rishon, quoting his British colleagues’ disappointment in Israel)
Herzl understood this and wrote about the Mikdash. Jabotinsky also talked about it, as did Yair (Avraham Stern) in his manifesto.
Religion in its present configuration is the most successful start- up in history: It virtualized a nation and preserved its national existence outside reality – as the walking dead- until its return to Zion (Mount Zion, specifically) and the building of the Beit Hamikdash. But in the course of 2000 years, the virtual became an existential consciousness. The Lamentations of Tisha B’Av have their permanent place on our bookshelves, where they wait to be taken out again next year. The Mashiach has been transformed from a practical aspiration to a sort of non-committal Santa Claus. He has become the greatest impediment to the arrival of the Mashiach.
The Zionists of last century cut loose the lifeline/noose of religion. Suddenly, they felt the hard ground of reality under their feet. They sensed reality beginning to respond to their national muscle-flexing: Suddenly, we were a normal nation. A massive wave of redemptive energy, repressed for 2000 years, burst forth as a result of the disconnection from religion. This energy carried the Zionist revolution on its back. Its remnants swelled the sails of the ship until after the Yom Kippur War.
But that wind is no longer blowing. The sails of the Zionist ship have sagged. Directionless gusts throw the ship to and fro. The sharks in the sea are the same sharks. The sandbanks and the storms are still just as threatening and the wind-tossed nation on the deck is still searching for meaning.
Some people find meaning in a return to religion. But that return gives them direction and meaning only in their personal lives. From a national perspective, they have returned to the place from which their ancestors fled. They have given up on the connection to reality. They have surrendered.
Usually, the newly observant distance themselves from the national experience. They are no longer interested in what was said on the news; certainly not in politics. The national reality once again becomes virtual for them. And the truth is that without the Beit Hamikdash, the entire state and our national existence is becoming more and more virtual. The world no longer accepts our right to exist because we flee our destiny. We flee the Beit Hamikdash.
In the depths of our hearts we know that the real return, the return that is moving forward on the shoulders of the tremendous accomplishments of Zionism, the return to our own meaning, the return that advances into reality and doesn’t retreat into religion – is informed by the practical yearning for the Beit Hamikdash.
Deep down in our national psyche, we want a home. We want a father. We want meaning. All the energies from the summer protests lead there.