May 24, 2024
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Shared Loss, Grief and Mourning: Finding the Path to Rebuilding the Temple

L’iuli nishamot Reuven ben Shaul, z”l and Aliza Talia Sara bat Dena Rachel, z”l.

We are a few days away from the climactic day of the summer, Tisha B’Av, and I can’t help but feel a mix of emotions as this significant fast day approaches. Most dread this fast, the heat and the long summer day. In past years, I always looked forward to it. Strange perhaps, but being that my Hebrew birthday falls out the day before the nine days, and my English birthday usually falls within a few days of the ninth of Av, intuitively I have always felt this made sense — of course, my birthday falls out this week; in the future, this will be the greatest holiday of all!

This year feels different….

The last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions … my eldest’s bat mitzvah in Adar, celebrating Yom Yerushalayim with my daughter in Jerusalem, Nashville for CMA Fest, flying across country to drive my daughter up to sleepaway camp, attending a wedding for the first time as friend of the mother of the bride (where did the time go?) … all highs — juxtaposed with far too many tragedies, locally and in the greater Jewish community… a young mothers’ premature death in a car accident on the way home from a camp reunion, three infant deaths of healthy babies within six months in the greater Los Angeles community, two healthy middle-aged women in Monsey and Brooklyn passing with no warning or prior health issues this past winter, a beloved young mother and wife in the community succumbing in her battle with cancer after an intense and brief nine-month battle, my dear cousin with an unexpected heart attack at age 47 on a summer Friday afternoon, a beacon of the Los Angeles community succumbing to cancer after only six weeks, the deaths of Rabbi Wallerstein, zt”l and Rav Kanievsky, zt”l…

I called a friend of mine recently and asked, “What is happening?” I flew to New York at the end of June to make the joyous trek up to the Poconos, visit friends and family, and as I was saying goodbye to my Oma on the West Side on Sunday afternoon — ready to head to New Jersey to celebrate the simcha of my friend’s daughter’s wedding — I got the call about my cousin’s sudden death and headed to a cemetery in Queens instead. I literally went from a kevurah to a wedding. I was shaking to the core for hours. It all felt (and still feels) like too much. This is too heavy. Too many funerals for friends and family who have not reached their old age.

This year, Tisha B’Av is not a commemoration of some far away, long ago tragedy our nation experienced thousands of years ago when each Temple was destroyed. This year, the suffering, the loss and the grief, is all too palpable, tangible and almost inescapable. It knows no boundaries — the losses cross community lines, cities and do not differentiate between young or old.

At one of the recent shivas I attended, as I was reciting the bracha of “HaMakom yenachem,” I finally understood why we have the custom to recite these specific words to mourners (something that in the past has felt impersonal and not relatable). “HaMakom yenachem es’chem b’soch she’ar aveilei tzion v’ Yerushalayim,” translated as “May Hashem console and comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” There are some losses that are so deep and all-encompassing that only Hashem — the Master Healer — can heal.

How appropriate that the month in which Tisha B’Av falls is called “Av” —Hebrew for “father.” Even during the time of our communal destruction, Hashem reminds us of His everlasting and unfaltering love for us. He is our comfort even when our Temple is destroyed. He is our constant.

When we hear about a loss, we all instinctively say “Baruch Dayan Emet — “Blessed is [the] True Judge.” I realize as I write these words, I imagine these are the very same words our people recited as the Batei Mikdash burned to the ground. How many times have I verbally recited these words and internally my inner voice screams out, “No, I am not mekabel this news, this is too tragic.”

At a time in Jewish history, when our people is sadly so divided and polarized, with so much differentiation and judgment across community lines, with the focus sadly misdirected to what makes us different: the color of our kippot, the style of our wigs, the color shirts we do and don’t wear, the length of our sleeves and skirts and the halachic opinions we hold by, etc.; we should instead consider what unites us: our love of God, Torah and Yiddishkeit, our love of our fellow man, our desire for peace in our homes, communities, countries and the world and our unwavering belief in God.

At each of the funerals I have attended in the last few months, the shuls and chapels were overflowing, with standing room only. I looked around the room at AH’s funeral and couldn’t help but notice the diversity of the crowd: young and old, yeshivish to modern Orthodox, the entire community showed up to mourn the loss in our community. If we won’t unite in our community around joy and simcha, God will unite us through personal tragedy, loss and grief.

At each of these funerals, there was another even more powerful common theme — unwavering belief in God across the board, that for reasons we cannot comprehend, God had decided it was the right time for these neshamot to be called back home. A chilling reminder that although our neshamot live on eternally, while the world we live in is really very temporary.

Tisha B’Av this year is for me a series of losses —personal losses — rippling through our greater community. How can we relate to the Churban of thousands of years ago, which this fast day commemorates? I had the lucky privilege to hear a close friend’s son lein his “bo bayom” haftarah during the Three Weeks. A former shul member was visiting from out of town and he shared a beautiful anecdote that helped me better connect to the Churban itself: Every Sukkos when he takes down his family sukkah, his father reminds him, “Pay close attention to how you take apart the sukkah; remember that that which is taken apart will be rebuilt. We will need to remember how to build it — which pieces connect here and there — and in what order, and placement.” How comforting that which is taken apart will rise again. If we can remember why it was destroyed, we can rebuild it.

The Gemara in Yoma leaves no chance of misunderstanding why the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed: “But the second Temple (period), a time in which the Jews were involved in Torah, mitzvot and gemilut chasadim; why was it destroyed? Because there was contained in it sinat chinam, to teach you that ‘baseless hatred’ is equal to the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and the spilling of blood,” (Yoma 9b).

If the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam, then the only tool that we can use to rebuild it is the reverse of how it came down —ahavat chinam, loving others freely without judgment. The prophets have constantly reminded us, Hashem is not looking for our sacrificial offerings. In the Netziv’s introduction to sefer Bereishit, he reminds us that there were tzaddikim and chassidim during the period of Bayit Sheni, and, nonetheless, the Temple was destroyed because the generation lacked yashrus in how they treated others. In contrast, sefer Bereishit is called “Sefer Hayashrus,” in the praise of the Avot, who conducted themselves towards others —even towards idol worshippers — with love (how Avraham prayed for Sodom to be saved is just one example). Ahavat chinam — love of our fellow Jew —is the building block of the final Redemption.

With the destruction of each Temple, there came a significant change in the way Judaism was practiced — we no longer had a central place of worship. Gone were the korbanot, the aliyot l’regel, the kohanim, kohen gadol and the Kodesh Hakadoshim. With the destruction of the Temple, we lost the very structure — physical and metaphorical — that contained our religious practices and God’s Presence. In Parshat Shemot, God instructs us, “V’asu li mikdash v’ shechanti b’tocham —and make for me a Temple and I will dwell within it.” Rabbi Yechiya Eltshari, the Tzeda Laderech, explains that: “God, the Shechinah does not reside in the sanctuary on account of the sanctuary, but does so only on account of the people of Israel, for they constitute the Temple of God.”Once the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, there was no physical structure for the Shechinah to reside. Instead, it resides within each of us. Metaphorically, we are the Temple, while literally we — through our capacity for ahavat Yisrael — hold the keys to its rebuilding.

Reuven and Alison, you have left us with a gaping hole in our hearts and a tremendous legacy. You are each genuinely shining examples and embodiments of what it means to be yashar and what it means to live every day with true ahavat Yisrael. If we can show up each day, living by your example, Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash will surely be here speedily and in our days.


Alanna Apfel is the founder and patient advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy, which helps therapy patients, individuals, couples, and children, save thousands of dollars annually on their out of network mental health therapy bills with their preferred therapist. In the months that AA Insurance Advocacy has been advocating on behalf of patients, clients have collected anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. For additional information, please contact [email protected].

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