If you are reading this now, it is highly unlikely that the Messiah has come. The Sages tell us that a generation in which the Temple has not been rebuilt is a generation in which it is destroyed. Thrice daily, traditional Jews pray for the restoration of the Temple and its sacrifices, and on Tisha Be’av this past Sunday, we marked 1,942 years since the Temple’s destruction.
In fact, I am writing this in English today, instead of the glorious idiom of the Hebrew language, because I am the descendant of those Jews who were forcibly taken away from this land in chains and handcuffs by a Roman occupation force. Since then, I and my fathers before me have concluded every Passover Seder and broken every Yom Kippur fast with the immortal words, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
And now that we live in a sovereign Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem, the question is asked every year if we should start building the Temple. My answer is no. We are not there yet. In fact, it will be a long while before we can seriously contemplate rebuilding the Temple. What we need first is a change in consciousness.
While today a black man sits in the Oval Office of the White House, many of the readers of The Jerusalem Post can still remember a time when African-Americans had to sit in the back of the bus for no reason except the color of their skin. They can still remember a time when there were separate drinking fountains for whites and coloreds. That does not mean that the problems of race have been solved in America, but it does mean that there has been a change in consciousness, enough that most Americans believe a black man could do just as good a job as president as a white one.
For the Messiah to come, we need a change in consciousness not just among the Jewish people, but in the entire world. The world needs to come to the realization that we are all brothers and sisters with but one Father. We need to understand that the goal of our lives should be the acquisition not of material goods, but of good deeds, and the practice of kindness. Like children who collect toys that are invaluable to them as kids but that they abandon when they become teenagers, we need to forgo the chasing of dollars and shekels, and channel that energy into providing food and medical care to all who need it. As long as we insist on looking at our neighbors to see what they have instead of making sure they have enough, we fall short of our messianic goal.
Can we really contemplate the building of the Temple before we have built a system of healthcare for all the world’s people? While there are still people who are hungry, can we really think about collecting wealth for any purpose save to feed them? The promise of the prophets is not nationalistic, but universal. The redemption of the Jewish people is but one part of that universal vision.
I believe in a Jewish state. Not just as a physical haven for Jews who are “everywhere a guest, nowhere at home,” but as a catalyst for the change in consciousness that will make possible the redemption of the world.
Two thousand years ago, we rejected Jesus because we refused to believe that the world had been saved. Since then, we have rejected every messianic pretender for the same reason. We cannot accept the State of Israel as anything more than the first step of the redemption. The founding of the state and the liberation of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount do not automatically lead to the next step of rebuilding the Temple, skipping the steps of redeeming the world.
When we accomplish that goal, we won’t have to convince everyone that the Temple Mount is ours and that we have the right to build the Temple. At that point, there will have been a change in consciousness so vast that it will be obvious to the world and our Arab cousins that of course the next step in history necessitates, nay, demands that the Jews rebuild their Temple on the Temple Mount.
And how does all this begin? To answer, I turn not to a Jewish thinker, but to a quote (falsely) attributed to Gandhi: “Become the change you wish to see happen in the world.”
The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in many post-high school yeshivot and midrashot.