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Building Your Own Temple

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

My 11-year-old daughter came a lot closer than most of us ever will to really understanding the true meaning of Tisha B'Av.

Let's be fair.

To fully appreciate this article, you really have to know Chanala... and not just because she's my daughter. But suffice it to say that whatever she does, she does with passion and enthusiasm and animation... and plenty of it.

And so it was a few months ago, that when her sixth grade teacher, Miss Fried, detailed the assignment to the class, Chanala was leaping out of her seat like a sizzling slice of pizza on an unsuspecting tongue.

"The Tabernacle we are learning about, that the Jewish People built in the desert," explained Miss Fried, "was just like the two Great Temples that would stand in Jerusalem many generations later."

Chanala and her classmates were getting their very first exposure to the concept of the Temple, which served as the focal point of Jewish life, practice, and service for 830 total years until the year 70 C.E. First impressions can last a lifetime and Miss Fried was especially adept at making every important lesson come alive for her girls. So depicting the Temple as something more than just an ornate physical structure or even a big synagogue, was a challenge she rather relished.

"Could you imagine if we -- this class of sixth-grade girls -- would actually build the Temple? Wouldn't that be unbelievable?"

Not everyone fully understood what Miss Fried had meant. They knew they were not builders, engineers, architects, and contractors, so how could they be expected to build the Temple? "Besides," whispered one girl, "I heard that only the Messiah will be able to build the Third Temple!"

"Allow me to explain. I'm going to divide the girls into small work groups. Each group will meet at night and build a small model of a section of the Temple. Then, in two weeks, when the parts are completed, we'll join together. Each group will bring and present her project to the whole school. We'll join the parts and create a magnificent model of the entire Temple!"

By this time the entire class was buzzing with anticipation and delight. Miss Fried announced the participants of each group and what section they would be asked to complete. Chanala and her three friends were assigned to construct the Mizbe'ach nechoshes, the copper altar, with its enormous and majestic ramp.

Chanala could hardly wait to come home from school and tell us all about the thrilling project. In fact, she didn't -- she called from the school payphone during recess. She described every minute detail of her new sacred mission and asked if the group could meet in our house (of course) TONIGHT, to begin working on the model. How could we say no?

A few hours later the front door burst open and 4 female, robust, budding sixth-grade construction workers came barreling into the living room, tripping over each other's words and bodies. What a sight it was.

"I'll get some scissors."
"Where is the oak tag?"
"Look! I found a great color diagram of the Temple in this book!"
"Can we stay for supper and sleep over tonight, tomorrow, and the next day?"

It was all rather adorable. The zest with which these girls embarked upon their new venture was vivid testimony to their teacher's enthusiasm and to their own zeal for learning.

This was their baby and they were going to keep it that way.

The team toiled for several hours that first night of work, with not a lot to show for it. To their credit, they labored on their own. The toppling configuration looked like a cross between a crippled piano and an early creation of the Wright Brothers, but never did any of them even consider asking for assistance or for our opinion. Good for them. This was their baby and they were going to keep it that way.

Undeterred, the quartet finally parted for the evening determined to get a better handle on the situation tomorrow night. Falling asleep for Chanala, at least, was no simple task; too much buzz, anticipation, and adrenalin. The rest of the group, we heard, had similar experiences.

Progress was slow but consistent over the next few nights, as the girls' creativity started kicking in. By the end of week one, the model actually approached a level that could almost be called 'recognizable.' And as a bonus, the group also began studying the purpose, splendor and meaning behind the Temple service as it related to the altar and its diverse offerings.

But the clock was ticking away. With just a few days left to complete their venture, the girls worked at a feverish pace. Our dining room floor had been literally transformed into a full-time manufacturing plant/assembly line, with varying amounts of Styrofoam, matchsticks, double-sided tape, cellophane, DucoCement, tape measures, and wood shavings strewn all over the place.

Their own crude diagrams served as blueprints for the holy endeavor and judging from the crescending voices that spirited the final hours of production, these 11-year-old draftswomen were learning incredible lessons that were as much about collaboration and deference as design and assembly. It was something to see and to admire.

As week two drew to a close, the altar, ramp and all of their compartments and trimmings were nearing completion. Everything had been measured, cut, formed and bonded. The detail was actually rather impressive.

It was the night before the deadline and the smiles on their little faces told a delightful story about determination, achievement, and pride. Chanala could hardly get the words out:

"We are ready to paint!"

Armed with cans of spray paint and shielded by aprons of holiness, our heroes triumphantly marched outside, assuredly transporting their creation through our front door. My wife and I watched from the kitchen with recriminations for not having videoed the occasion for posterity. They had really done it -- and all by themselves.

It was almost supper time and the autumn shadows had nearly completed their transformation to darkness. We knew that the whole painting process would not take long and soon the troop would be calling us outside for our very first look at the totally finished product.

But when the call came -- it was hardly the one we expected. The shrieks shook us to our bones.


We flew out of the house and found four howling girls flooded with tears.

"Look!!" shouted Chanala, pointing down the block.

We crooked our heads to the right and saw the model, already in many pieces, bouncing down the street -- ensnared in a gust of wind. Some sections were lodged under parked cars, others were stuck in bushes. Some pieces apparently were already gone forever.

"It came out of nowhere," screamed the hysterical girls.
"One minute we were spraying the paint -- the next minute it was gone."
"I tried running after it, but the wind was just too fast for me."

I scooted down the block to retrieve the irretrievable, but it was to no avail. Moments later I returned with the shattered remains of a valiant project that was somehow just not meant to be. Needless to say, the girls were inconsolable.

The clean-up was a sad one. We salvaged some of the vestiges of value, more for reminiscence than utility, and after several minutes we trudged back into the silent house. There really was not much to say. The helplessness kind of said it all.

Over the next few hours the girls were all picked up. They returned home empty-handed. Chanala skipped supper and went to bed. Outside, the wind was calm.

My heart broke for her as I sat beside her and stroked back the forlorn curls that had cluttered her tear-stained cheeks. Her feelings of loss were profound and I treated them like those of any full-fledged mourner.

We processed the events of the last two weeks and remembered all the gory and gleeful details of the undertaking. Together we recalled what the structure looked like in its first few days and she actually laughed at the thought. Healing had begun. It was obvious that the pain would remain for a while, but I also knew that recovery would follow soon after.

Could you imagine for a moment what all the Jewish People felt, 2000 years ago, when the real Temple was destroyed?

I kissed her good-night and told her how proud I was and how much I loved her. I could see her smiling in the glimmer of the night-lite. Walking out the door, I thought of one more thing I could say to her. I stopped and considered the implications. Was it too early? Is this something that she can hear now? Was I overdoing it? I wasn't sure, but I decided to tell her.

I turned around and headed back to her bed. I sat down once more.

"You know Chanala, tonight was a very sad night for your friends and for you. Right now, all of you are in a lot of pain. And when you are hurting, Mommy and I are hurting too. Someday, when you'll be a Mommy, you'll understand that even better.

"But as much as you are all hurting now, could you imagine for a moment what all the Jewish People felt, 2000 years ago, when the real Temple was destroyed? You built a model of an altar in two weeks -- they lost everything. The Temple was their home for over 400 years!"

I didn't have to wait long for the reaction. Her face was a strange mixture of wonderment and anguish. She looked up at me and covered her mouth. I thought I heard a gasp. She understood.

I kissed her again and left the room. I didn't suggest to her that maybe, just maybe, God had chosen the model's destruction as a vehicle to teach her and her friends and her parents and her class and countless others the impact of the events of Tisha B'Av and the destruction of the two Temples. How could I know if that was true?

But I have a feeling that those little girls, on that windy night, in their overwhelming sorrow, came a lot closer than most of us ever will to really understanding the true meaning of Tisha B'Av.


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