The Jewish Temple was a holy and magnificent edifice, described as one of the wonders of the world. It majestically stood in Jerusalem for more than 830 years as the nucleus of Jewish worship.
The first Temple, built by King Solomon, stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by the invading armies of the Babylonian empire. Seventy years later the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allowed the rebuilding of the second Temple which stood for 420 years under Persian, Greek and Roman domination. Its ultimate demise, however, came under the hands of the Roman Empire. The destruction of the Temple is considered the greatest national tragedy in Jewish history. To commemorate this loss, a period of three weeks is dedicated to mourning the destruction of these edifices.
In the midst of these tragedies, the prophets predicted the rebuilding of a third Temple that will surpass the former in greatness and accompany the ultimate redemption through the coming of the Messiah (known in Hebrew as Moshiach). The end of the 37 th chapter of Ezekiel describes the Messianic age as a time of universal peace when there will be an ingathering of the Jewish exiles, a rebuilding of the Temple and the open revelation of Godliness throughout the world.
Sacrifices were at the core of the Temple service. There were a variety of offerings, including peace, thanksgiving, guilt and sin offerings as well. Interestingly, sin offerings were not brought for every sin. The fourth chapter of the book of Leviticus teaches that they were brought exclusively for sins done “unintentionally.”
Intentional sins are forgiven by sincere repentance alone. This sincere repentance is also the key to receiving God’s forgiveness of unintentional sins. In fact, the sin offering itself was insufficient to independently bring forgiveness. The act of examining and slaughtering an unblemished animal served as the means of motivating the sinner to contemplate the severity of his act in order to inspire remorse and repentance.
Although sacrifices temporarily ceased while the Temple lay in ruins, repentance, the primary form of forgiveness remained intact. When unavailable, prophets like Hosea (see an accurate translation of Hosea chapter 14) instructed Jews to bring sincere prayers in place of sacrifices. These prayers serve to motivate and inspire sincere repentance. Interestingly, as demonstrated in the book of Jonah, sacrifices were never required of non-Jews when they sought God’s forgiveness.
The Three Weeks are also a time to rededicate ourselves to serving God and working to rectify the destruction of the Temple. Our sages teach that we can do this by anticipating and preparing for the coming of Moshiach. We can learn how to do this by gleaning a lesson from the Jewish month known as “Iyar,” the month of preparation.”
Fifty days after the Passover Exodus from Egypt the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai. This occurred in the Hebrew month of Sivan. The forty-nine days prior to this event were spent in spiritual preparation. Known as the “counting of the Omer”, each day is spent preparing to receive the Torah by refining our spiritual connection to God. Each year we relive this experience. Iyar, the month preceding the giving of the Torah has the distinction of having every day associated with the Omer and thus is referred to as the month of preparation.
Several individuals are associated with the month of Iyar. We can take a lesson from their particular Godly services and their connection to preparing for Moshiach.
One of the greatest sages was Rabbi Akiva. He is associated with Iyar because thousands of his students died during that month. There are two opinions for why they died. One opinion says they died of a plague. The other says that Rabbi Akiva’s students died fighting in the unsuccessful Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans. Bar Kochba was a great Jewish military leader who Rabbi Akiva considered to be the potential candidate for Moshiach.
Rabbi Akiva’s fundamental teaching of “Ahavas Yisroel – loving ones fellow as oneself” is also connected to Moshiach. Our sages teach that the Temple was destroyed as a result of “Sinas Chinam” or unjustified hatred. They also expounded that “Ahavas Yisroel” counteracts this hatred and hastens the coming of the Moshiach.
Moreover, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva and author of the mystical, Kabalistic work known as the Zohar, is also associated with the month of preparation. Rabbi Shimon, who passed away on the 18 th of Iyar, revealed the spiritual dimensions of Torah. The study of this aspect of Torah prepares the world and hastens the future revelation of Moshiach, since this dimension of Torah is a foretaste of the spiritual revelation that with permeate the world during the Messianic age.
The third person connected with Iyar is Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, known as the Master of Miracles. Rabbi Meir passed away on the 14 th of Iyar – which is also Pesach Sheni – or the Second Passover, when Jews, unable to bring the Passover offering to the Temple, were given a second opportunity to do so. This teaches that we are given a second chance and hints to the Messianic redemption.
In addition to being renowned for his ability to perform miracles, Rabbi Meir’s name is also associated with protecting individuals and helping them find lost or misplaced objects. Rabbi Meir taught that when someone finds himself in a dangerous situation, the words “Eloka d’Rabbi Meir Aneni” or “the God of Rabbi Meir answer me,” should be said to invoke heavenly assistance. One famous story records how a non-Jew was miraculously saved when he followed Rabbi Meir’s advice. This heavenly assistance can offer protection or help recover lost objects.
Rabbi Meir is connected to Moshiach for two reasons. One is that he was considered a potential messianic candidate (JT, Kilayim 43a) and secondly, because of this connection to recovering lost objects. Similarly, our sages teach that God “sent the Jewish people into exile for the purpose of adding converts to our nation” (Pesachim 87b). At first glance this seems strange since we have probably lost more Jews during the bitter exile then we have gained. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Ari, explained that in this statement, converts represent lost sparks of holiness that are embedded in the physical creation and in the bodies of converts, as well as Jews who have assimilated. Our spiritual mission during the time of exile is to utilize the physical world to serve God, thereby redeeming and reuniting these sparks to their Godly source. Finding and elevating these lost sparks of holiness hastens the coming of Moshiach.
Interestingly, the acronym for the first names of Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva is the Hebrew word Shema, meaning “listen.” We should listen to the teaching of these great sages. By practicing unconditional love for our fellow man, learning the spiritual dimensions of Torah and rescuing the lost sparks of holiness by bringing Jews back to their faith, we prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach and rectify the destruction of the Holy Temples.
Through committing ourselves to these principals we will hasten the coming of Moshiach and usher in an era when Godliness fills the earth and the Three Weeks of Mourning will be transformed into a time of consolation and rejoicing.