Monday, August 10, 2020

When it comes to mourning the Beit Hamikdash, at this time of the year our acute recognition of our loss gradually recedes into the rhythm of regular life. Yet as the preparation for the next journey on the Jewish calendar begins, we never truly leave that loss behind. While most of us have already cut our hair, resumed eating meat and listening to music, in some ways the mourning that escalated during the last three weeks never completely subsides. In just a few weeks Elul and the Yomim Noraim will be upon us. While our focus will differ, and shifts inward to self-reflection and improvement, the anguish of the loss of the Beit Hamikdash is not extinguished. During the Selichot, our pleas for mercy will recall the suffering we faced as a result of the destruction and exile. Even as we stand up from sitting on the ground to standing in shul resplendent in our Yom Tov best, as we daven during the Yomim Noraim we will reminisce about what once was, when we had the Temple and our own land, and bitterly compare it to the pain and religious loss we now face in its absence.


Perhaps this is one level why the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (יח:) says שקולה מיתת צדיקים כשריפת בית אלוקינו, the loss of the righteous is equatable to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The death of the righteous leaves a spiritual emptiness in our lives that echoes the loss of the Beit Hamikdash. Now, one year after Rabbi Ozer Glickman’s passing, the thought occurred to me, perhaps the way we relate to the loss has parallels as well.

The Beit Hamikdash stood as a spiritual center for all Jews, regardless of sectarian affiliation or level of observance, to go to be inspired and meet with the divine presence. While most Jews outside of the kohanim didn’t interact with the Beit Hamikdash daily, it still set the rhythm of their lives and was a focal point in the calendar and their spiritual lives.

I’m sure Rabbi Glickman would have had choice, witty words about being compared to the Beit Hamikdash. He may have even objected that he had far more personality than Jerusalem limestone, but to me there is still a sad symmetry to the losses.

As a student of Rabbi Glickman, no longer attending his daily shiur or seeing him on a regular basis at YU, it was the alternations in the rhythms of life that caused me to be “oleh regel” to reach out to him. Sometimes it would be like Chana’s second trek to the Mikdash, to share in a simcha and offer thanks, when I would reach out to Rabbi Glickman to share in the happy momentous life events. But more often than not it was when faced with challenges or at a crossroads in life when I was fortunate to be able to turn to Rabbi Glickman. Whether in person or digitally, he was the address for me to turn to at pivotal times of elation or struggle, and was a focal point in my spiritual life.

The past months had many instances in adjusting to the void created and dealing with acute feelings of loss and sadness over not being able to share life’s difficulties and celebrations with him. What prompted this article was a specific instance that highlighted the uniqueness of the loss those who knew Rav Ozer faced.

When reviewing my on-call schedule for the year, I noticed that I was scheduled to be in the hospital on Tisha B’Av. Thankfully there are many wonderful, engaging and brilliant rabbis I could speak to about the halachot of navigating being in the hospital on Tisha B’Av. However, my first instinct upon seeing that assignment was my yearning to speak with my rebbe who knew acutely the challenge of being in a foreign environment at odds to the rhythm of Jewish life. While I could easily find the halachic guidance for how and where to sit before chatzos, I only had one rebbe who shared with me his own challenges of participating in corporate meetings that were at times in stark contrast with his inner religious mindset.

Just as during the Nine Days we acutely feel the loss of the religious center that is always missing, the loss of Rabbi Glickman transformed my chronic ache to a fresh wound. I knew exactly who I wanted to reach out to and discuss the inner contradiction of greeting patients with the same upbeat demeanor I try to have every day, while my fellow Jews sit on the floor reciting Kinot and don’t even greet each other as a sign of mourning.

But all is not lost.

As we emerge from the acute stages of mourning of Tisha B’Av, we are confronted with the enigmatic holiday of Tu B’Av. The holiday where we celebrate the miraculous event of the preservation of the bodies of those killed at Beitar until they were able to be given a proper burial. It seems strange that we have an event celebrating the end of the Hadrianic persecutions that left hundreds of thousands dead and effectively ended the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel for close to 2,000 years. While the tragedy of the aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt never goes away, Chazal nevertheless saw something else among the ruins, something worthy of making the fourth blessing of Birkat Hamazon that we still say until this day: הוּא הֵיטִיב, הוּא מֵיטִיב, הוּא יֵיטִיב לָנוּ, הוּא גְמָלָנוּ, הוּא גוֹמְלֵנוּ, הוּא יִגְמְלֵנוּ לעד.

Among all the destruction they saw an important caveat from that miraculous sparing of the corpses of the denigration of decomposing in the open air. No matter what happened, God is still with us. The indomitable spirit of Chazal and the Jewish people recognized that even after the loss of the spiritual center of the Jewish people in the Beit Hamikdash and the Land of Israel, the one thing that was never destroyed was the ושכנתי בתוכם, the spiritual impact that transformed the Jewish people by having God’s presence with them. God’s presence never truly left. It may be harder to access, and not as apparent and clear as it once was, but the impact of those years with the Beit Hamikdash and God’s close presence never left the Jewish people and sustained us throughout the millennia of exile.

If the loss of the tzadikim is akin to the destruction of the Temple, for me I hoped my comfort could come similarly. While I can no longer reach out to speak with Rabbi Glickman and ask him my questions, it doesn’t mean I can’t still hear his answer. I can think back to the treasured conversations and emails, thinking about how he answered my questions in the past, and trying to figure out what he would have told me now. What that answer might be is a longer essay for another time, but also something I think he would have addressed differently to each of his different students in life. I think Rabbi Glickman would have also appreciated that his students felt that they didn’t only need to turn to him for answers, but could take what he taught them and apply it themselves.

As life continues, the loss of Rabbi Glickman’s presence remains. While he is no longer with us, the solace this episode taught me is that his guidance never stopped, and his lessons continue for those privileged to learn from him.

By Ari Friedman

Ari Friedman is an internal medicine resident and was a talmid of Rabbi Glickman from Yeshiva University/RIETS.