Twin Towers and Twin Temples

During this pre-Tisha B’Av week, my wife casually mentioned something to me about this period of national mourning. What she said struck me as having relevance for contemporary Jews, and I suggested she write it down.
—Emanuel Feldman

The Twin Towers and the Twin Temples

Just this week I was on a plane landing in New York City, and as I looked out my window at the gaping hole in the skyline where the Twin Towers once stood, an inchoate melacholy enveloped me.

This was not a new sensation for me. As a native New Yorker, I have always been fascinated by the elemental strength and grace of her towering skyscrapers. But ever since 9/11, my heart -­ like that of millions of others – aches whenever I see pictures of Manhattan, and I find myself searching the pictures for those lost Towers. And this almost irrational reaction is from someone who left New York before the Towers were built, and who never even saw them.

The Jewish people once possessed two magnificent Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Built many years apart, they were among the most resplendent buildings of the ancient world, the pride of the Jewish people. They were more than mere buildings, of course. They were the resting place of the Holy Ark and the Shechinah, the spiritual Presence of Gd Himself. They were constructed on the site of the ancient Binding of Isaac. In that spot lies the bedrock of the world itself, and from the ground of that ineffably holy place, Adam was formed by his Creator.

Neither of those Jerusalem Temples exists today. Each was destroyed on the ninth of Av by our mortal enemies. This is of course why Jews around the world mark Tish’a B’Av as the saddest day of the Jewish year.

As a Jewess, I try to do what I am supposed to do on Tish’a B’Av. I fast, sit on a low stool, listen to the Book of Lamentations, dutifully and even tearfully recite the kinnot prayers. But while I am genuinely saddened by the destruction of the two Holy Temples, I must confess that, strangely, the sense of loss that I feel is not as keen as that which encompasses me at the destruction of the Twin Towers.

For example, on a recent visit to New York, I could not bring myself to visit the site of the Towers. The very thought that here was the graveyard of thousands of human beings was too painful. Although I have similar problems when visiting the site of the destroyed Temples in Jerusalem, I am troubled that my anguish is not as acute.

I dare say that I am not alone in all this, and that many other Jews who will be fasting this 9Av – though their mourning will surely be genuine – share this paradox: the Holy Temples are a once-a-year abstraction beyond the scope of our screens, despite the constant religious reminders that attempt to maintain it within our vision. On the morning after, life continues quite normally, and we do our accumulated laundry at noon.

Among my prayers this 9Av will be this one: As always, may it be Gd’s will to restore the Holy Temple to its ancient glory, and may Tish’a B’Av be transformed into a joyous Yom-Tov.

But if in Gd’s infinite wisdom this will not happen immediately, then my fall-back prayer is: May my inexplicable longing for the destroyed Twin Towers – which were after all not holy but only temples of commerce – be the model for creating within me an even deeper understanding and longing for the destroyed Jerusalem Temples and all that they represent.

— Estelle Feldman

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3 Responses

  1. Nechama & Tehila Grossman says:

    We were very touched by Rebbetzin Feldman’s poignant description of her recent visit to New York. But, why did she need to travel to Lower Manhattan? Doesn’t she know anyone in Passaic? You can see the Manhattan skyline from the top of Ascension St.

  2. Chava Orah says:

    Rebbetzin Feldman:
    I loved your article, and I truly hope that the Rabbi will let you write more often. But, one thing disturbs me: do I really have to do the laundry on the tenth of Av? Can’t I just put it off a few more days and allow the sense of mourning to linger?

  3. Francine Marino says:

    Why is it an “almost irrational emotion” to grieve at the sight of the bare Manhattan skyline? The gap left by the destruction of the Twin Towers only reminds one of the murder of 2,749 innocent people in a brutal terror attack. Surely it is natural to grieve and to empathize with their bereaved families who are alive and suffering, in a deeper way, than for those who suffered in the time of the Churban.

    The Eish Kodesh, the Admor of Piaseczna, (a.k.a. The Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto) who perished in the Shoa, left behind a moving legacy in his collection of drashot on Parshat Hashavua. In his final entry, the one on Shabbat Chazon, (the Shabbat of two weeks ago), he pointed out that there is no mourning like that for tragedies we actually see and feel ourselves. He added that the mourning and tears he and his congregants experienced in years past on Tisha B’Av was based on hearing, reading, learning.

    But it was only, during the Shoa, when they were witnessing tragedies with their own eyes (“chazon, lachazot”= vision, to see), and experiencing them first-hand that they realized what a pale imitation of grief their Tisha B’Av sentiments in previous years had been.

    I know too many people who manage to cry on Tisha B’Av, but have no tears for friends or neighbours who have experienced tragic pain. Now that’s disturbing.

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