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The second form of zikaron – obligation – has two aspects. The first demands active remembrance of the destruction: leaving a spot of the house unpainted; leaving over a part of one’s meal; making mention of Jerusalem in tefillah and Birkat HaMazon – direct, concrete demonstrations of the diminution of our joy, of our day-to-day “normalcy.” The well-known wedding custom of breaking a glass under the chuppah is likewise derived from this demand.
Our actions proclaim that we will never forget the terrible tragedy; that the actual tragedy remains as real to us as it was to the poor souls whose eyes bore witness to its horror.
Beyond the obligation to perform mitzvot in the same manner in which they were performed in the days of the Mikdash (in order to always make real and immediate the Mikdash experience) there is also an injunction to perform only those mitzvot that were performed in Eretz Yisrael during Temple days. Jeremiah exclaims: “Set thee up marks (tziyunim), make thee guide posts (tamrurim)” – markings and posts that will remind us of the paths we left behind in the land of Israel. And which, therefore, mark the way back, the way of return. For it is by separating terumot and ma’aserot even in our own land that we remember how to live in the land.
Chazal established three types of remembrances to help us to cope with the perpetual state of mourning the Churban imposes upon us. The first are meant to invoke memories of Jerusalem throughout all of life’s experiences – from the mundane, such as eating, to religious obligations, such as praying, and even to the most joyous times of our lives, such as marriage. The lesson is clear – not only would we never be the same; we should never be the same.
So powerful is Jerusalem still that should our very memory of Jerusalem be diminished, we would be diminished as a nation, as a people.
Our past is an essential ingredient in who we are. Ironically, there is no future without the past; we cannot be transformed without remaining in some very profound way unchanged. Therefore, though we can no longer offer sacrifices at the Temple, we offer prayers as both remembrance and as sacrifice. We internalize the reality of the Temple so that our character and our actions as a nation continue to represent the reality of the Temple, keeping it a living, dynamic presence in our lives so that when it is rebuilt, we can return to it and reestablish the sacred rituals of the Temple as if they had never been interrupted.
But even concrete, physical acts are not enough. After all, our loss was not merely physical; it was spiritual. With the Churban we became a nation without Kohanim at our service, Levites at our songs. No more could we satisfy the requirements of the Three Pilgrimages or offer up sacrifices to God. No more does our Sanhedrin sit in authoritative judgment of the people, determining what is right and wrong according to Torah.
Our loss of spiritual vitality cannot be healed with mere physical acts.
There are days which are observed by all Israel as fasts because tragic events happened on them, the object being to stir hearts and open the way to repentance, and to remind us of our own evil deeds, and of our fathers’ deeds which were like ours, as a consequences of which these tragic afflictions came upon them and upon us. For as we remember these things we ought to repent and do good.
Rambam makes clear here that our rituals, observances, prohibitions, and restrictions are an important means of moving toward teshuvah. These actions must stimulate the heart and the mind to probe and analyze why these national calamities have befallen us – certainly they cannot be encounters with the impersonal forces of history – and, therefore, how we can be transformed by them.
After all, it means nothing to be merely victim – or beneficiary – of chance events and therefore, there can be nothing gained or lost from examining them. Mourning brings about teshuvah, which requires meaning. The loss that is mourned cannot be mere chance. It cannot be random.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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