When Messiah Builds a Temple

Rabbi Arthur Waskow & Rabbi Phyllis Berman
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Dear Chevra,

Once again we approach Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of the Destruction of both Temples. (It comes from Saturday night, July 28, to Sunday night, July 29.) This year we approach it with dread that disastrous acts of enormous violence are about to be unleashed, that the "temples" that are not a single building but the collective homes of two whole peoples are in danger of demolition.

Our tradition also teaches that on Tisha B'Av the Mashiakh is born, that the rebuilding of the sacred place begins. How can that be done in a truly Messianic way? Phyllis & I have written a story (it appears in our book Tales of Tikkun) that explores this archetypal tale in a new way.

If this year we feel the fast of Tisha B'Av as an act of tshuvah for the share of arrogance and apathy that our own people has contributed to the ongoing violence and the danger of worse —
If we use this Tisha B'Av to call for an additional day of taanit tzibbur, a communal fast in light of impending calamity —
Then perhaps we can also use this Tisha B'Av to envision a transformed future, and take on the task of bringing it about.

For the afternoon of this coming Sunday, the time when Mashiakh enters, we offer this story as an individual or communal reading.

Shalom, Arthur

When Messiah Builds a Temple

Arthur Ocean Waskow & Phyllis Ocean Berman

To the hills of Israel where the air is clearest and it is possible to see the furthest —
To the little town of Safed above the Sea of Galilee —
Long ago there came a Hassid, visiting from Poland to see his Rebbe.

Struggling up hills, over cobblestones, through narrow alleyways, the Hassid came panting, shaking, to the door of a pale and quiet synagogue.

So pale, so quiet that the pastel paintings on the wall and ceiling stood out as though they were in vivid primary colors.

As the Hassid came into the shul, he saw his Rebbe high on a makeshift ladder, painting a picture on the ceiling above the bimah.

The Hassid blinked, startled to see his Rebbe with a paint brush in his hand.

And then he blinked again. He frowned and tugged at his beard:

"Rebbe, what is this that you are painting here above the bimah? It looks like the Dome that the Children of Ishmael, the ones they call Muslims, have built above the rock where Abraham bound Isaac.

"The giant golden Dome that they have built where stood the Holy Temple. I have just come from Jerusalem... It looks..." He stopped.

The Rebbe's eyes turned inward. "You know," he said, "Here in Tz'fat we can see and see and see... so far! And I have seen..." he said, and paused. "I have seen..." he said and paused again.

"Looking and seeing, they can be so strange. For example — our sages teach us that when Messiah comes, he will rebuild the Holy Temple in the twinkling of an eye. But often have I wondered: How can this be? Messiah will be extraordinary, yet still a human being merely...

"But now! I have seen... Well, let me tell you: At the foot of the Western Wall, the Wall where God's Own Presence weeps and hides in exile, I have seen hundreds of thousands of Jews gathered, singing.

"Messiah has come! — and they are singing, dancing, as the Great Day dawns. Women, men, together — I could not believe it! The crowds were so thick I was not even sure whether Messiah was a wo... " — he glanced apologetically at his Hassid — "whether Messiah... well, forget it.

"I can see from the sun, the scorching heat, it is a late afternoon in hottest summer. Yet the crowd are wearing t'fillin. So I can see that it is Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for our beloved Temple. But there are no signs of mourning — except perhaps the way, the wistful way, Messiah reaches out to touch the Wall, to tuck one last scrawled scrap of prayerful paper between the great carved stones.

"I see Messiah speak a sentence to the crowds. I cannot hear the words, but I can see that from this voice there stirs a river — as if his words, like Moses' staff, have drawn forth water from the ancient stones of the Wall. I see a stream of Jews flow up the stairway that rises to the Temple Mount.

"The river of people pauses on the steps. They cluster 'round a wrinkled, tattered piece of paper, posted above the stairway. I see it is signed by the rabbis of that day. It warns all Jews to go no further, lest by accident they walk — God forbid! — into the space set aside as the Holy of Holies.

"Messiah reads. And laughs. And tears the sign to shreds. The stream of people shudders — higher, higher.

"The crowd cascades from the stairway onto the great stone pavement of the Temple Mount. Their singing turns to the thunder of a great waterfall. They look toward the other end of the Mount — toward the great golden Dome — the Dome that covers the Rock where Abraham bound his son for sacrifice.

"Surrounding the Dome are thousands of these children of Ishmael, these Muslims. They are not singing. They are shouting, furious, stubborn. 'Not here!' they shout in unison, 'Not here!'

"'You will not tear down our Holy Mosque to build your Jewish Temple!'

"But I can hear the crowd of Jews — muttering, whispering, 'Right there, yes! — That is the place... No doubt, no doubt, the ancient studies tell us that it is the place.'

"Messiah is quiet. The sea of Jews falls to a murmuring, falls silent. They turn to watch. Messiah looks, gazes, embraces with fond eyes the Holy Space. Messiah's eyes move across the Dome, its golden glow, the greens and blues and ivories of the walls beneath it.

"I hear a whisper from Messiah's lips: 'So beautiful!'

"The Muslims too are silent now. The stillness here, the stillness there — so total that they split the Holy Mount in two.

"Messiah raises one arm, slowly, slowly. The Muslims tense, lift knives and clubs and shake them in the stillness. The Jews tense, ready to leap forward with their picks and shovels.

"Messiah points straight at the Dome.

"The peoples vibrate: two separate phantom ram's horns in the silent air, wailing forth a silent sob to Heaven.

"Messiah speaks quietly into the utter quiet:

"'This green, this blue, this gold, this Dome — This is the Holy Temple!'

"I blink.

"For seconds, minutes, there is not a sound.

"Then I hear a Muslim shout, see him raise a knife: 'No! No! You will not steal our Holy Mosque to make your Jewish Temple!'

"He throws the knife. It falls far short. No one stirs. The other Muslims turn to look at him. They look with steadfast eyes: no joy, no anger. They just keep looking. He wilts into the crowd; I can no longer see what he is doing.

"Messiah steps forward, one step. Everyone, Jew and Muslim. breathes a breath. One Jew calls out: 'You must not do this. You must not use their dirty place to be our Holy Temple. Tear it down! — We need our own, the Prophets teach how wide and tall it is to be. It is not this thing of theirs, this thing of curves and circles.'

"He takes a step toward Messiah, lifts an ax to brandish it.

"The man beside him reaches out a hand and takes the ax. Just takes it. There is a murmur, but the murmur dies. The man holds the ax level in both hands, walks out with it into the no-man's-land between the crowds. He lays it on the pavement, backs away.

"There is another time of quiet. Two Muslims reach out from the crowd, toss their knives to land next to the ax. The pause is shorter this time. Then on every side weapons come flying through the air to land beside the ax, beside the knives. There is a pile. Someone walks forward, lights a fire. The pile begins to burn. The flames reach up and up and up — to Heaven.

"So I have seen," the Rebbe said, "Messiah build the Temple in the twinkling of an eye. And that is why I am painting this Dome upon our ceiling."

The visitor took breath again. "And why?" he said. "Why would Messiah do this dreadful thing?"

The Rebbe put his arm around his Hassid's shoulder.

"You still don't see?" he said. "Even here in Safed, you still don't see?

"I think Messiah had four reasons:

"First for the sake of Abraham's two families.

"Second for the sake of the spirals in the Dome.

"Third for the sake of the Rock beneath the Dome.

"And fourth for the sake of the twinkling of an eye."

"And Rebbe — why did the people burn their weapons?"

"For the sake of the burnt offering. It is written that when the Temple is rebuilt, there must be burnt offerings. And it is also written, 'Choose!'

"Choose what? Choose what to burn:

"Each other, and the Temple, yet again?

"Or — the things we use to burn each other with."

"So ..." said the Hassid, "... dear Rebbe — you are saying that the Dome — it really is our Temple?

"Forgive me, Rebbe, but I wonder whether the Temple may be the empty space. The empty space where the offering went up in flames to Heaven.

"The empty space between them, where they burned the weapons — perhaps that is the Temple?

"Ours and theirs?"

The Rebbe turned, astonished, to gaze more deeply into the Hassid's eyes. "I see!" said the Rebbe.

And then together, each with an arm around the other's shoulder, together they walked to where their eyes could look:

Far, far beyond the hills, much farther than the Sea of Galilee.

* This story copyright © by Waskow & Berman, 1995. It appears in Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (Jason Aronson, 1995). Berman is the director of the summer program at Elat Chayyim, a Jewish spiritual retreat center in the Hudson Valley.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is Director of The Shalom Center and author of Godwrestling - Round 2 (Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, VT) and Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life (Wm. Morrow).

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