“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering… And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:2, 25:8)
“And [afterward] the people were restrained from bringing… For the materials they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much.” (Exodus 36:6-7)
Wherein lies the sadness of this account? Unable to contribute to the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) any longer, some people would have realized that they had waited too long, deliberating about what to give, if anything. When the window of opportunity closed and “the people were restrained from giving”, those who had given already to G-d’s dwelling place, a place of physical closeness and spiritual intervention on behalf of Israel and the rest of the world, would forever be linked to the spiritual elevation of their people and indeed, all of mankind. Not all of Israel would have this privilege.
A story is told of a rabbi from Israel who traveled to a distant land to ask for donations to fund his yeshiva (school of Torah learning). When he arrived and spoke at a certain synagogue, he asked for each man present to give generously, supporting the yeshiva for a whole week. His entreaties were enthusiastically received by the hearers and many people spoke of donating generously. However, the local community leader got up afterward and downplayed the appeal, convincing his congregants to hold on to their money for “more important purposes”, or to only donate only small sums. Later apologizing for the paltry sum which had been donated, he asked the rabbi’s pardon for intervening, stating that he was certain he had angered the Rosh Yeshiva. The visiting rabbi responded very calmly, explaining to the community leader as he prepared to depart: “When G-d commanded Moshe our teacher to seek out Bezalel son of Uri to build the Mishkan in the wilderness, imagine Moshe going out into the camp to search for a man named, Bezalel, the one G-d had chosen. When he met a man, he would say, ‘G-d wishes us to build a Dwelling Place for Him. Are you Bezalel son of Uri who has been given the privilege of building it?’ If the man answered, ‘No, I am not Bezalel’, could Moshe have been angry with him? Of course not; he simply was not the man to whom G-d had given the privilege of building the Mishkan.” The rabbi turned to the community leader and finished, “Likewise, why should I be angry if your synagogue will not be counted among the supporters of Torah learning, if you and your community have not been granted the privilege of supporting a yeshiva?” In other words, the leader and his people had lost out on a rare privilege, and the window of opportunity had closed.
Another story is told of a young man whose extreme poverty prevented him from traveling to yeshiva to learn. He did not even have enough money to buy a pair of shoes and the weather was cold, with snow on the roads. He begged a wealthy man of his acquaintance who had just purchased a new pair of shoes to give him his old pair so that he could walk to the yeshiva and learn there. But the man refused, actually mocking the poor man’s circumstance. Years later, when the poor young man had grown to be a great and renowned rabbi, that same rich man wanted to fund the publication of one of the rabbi’s books. But the rabbi refused, and told him that he had once had his chance to contribute, but he had thrown it away. If he had supported the young boy who needed shoes, then he would have had a share in everything that boy did in the future. But now it was too late; the opportunity had been missed and would never return.
What does all this have to do with Tisha b’Av?
The principal focus of the mourning of Tisha b’Av is on the destruction of our Temple. We who have never known what it is to have the Holy Temple in our midst can scarcely comprehend the loss we suffer in its absence. Those who witnessed its destruction spoke afterwards of the colossal spiritual vacuum which could immediately be felt, the increased difficulty of things like faith, fervent devotion and spiritual insight which had seemed to come so easily before. They said that the physical world itself changed: colors became dimmer, fruit lost its taste, and the world was left a shell of its former self.
Faced with the real ramifications of the Temple’s destruction, can we content ourselves with merely mourning its departure? We know that G-d’s Word tells us that a new Temple will be rebuilt and that He will again occupy it as He did in days gone by. (Ezekiel 40-48) Is there some way that we may participate in it’s rebuilding now?