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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Did the Temple go out of business due to competition?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 3
There’s an old story about Irving who gets stranded on a desert island.  Twenty years later, they finally find him.  His beard’s a little longer, but for the most part, he appears to be doing just fine.  He proudly points to the house he’s built for himself.  It’s a gorgeous structure with all the fancy trimmings.  Next, he shows them the two shuls he’s constructed on the island.
“TWO shuls?” they ask incredulously.  “Why do you need two shuls for one person?”
“Oh, one’s the shul I daven in; the other’s the shul I would never step foot in!”

Rav Chisda said: People should never demolish a shul until they have built a new shul.  There are those who say that the concern is negligence.  And there are others who say that the concern is prayer.  What is the practical difference?  The difference is whether there is an alternative place to pray.
Rashi explains: Negligence means perhaps an unavoidable mishap will arise impeding the rebuilding.  Praying refers to their ability to daven during the construction period.

Why wouldn’t they be able to daven while the new shul is under construction?  Surely, they could make a minyan – or two, or three – in people’s homes!  A lot of people make minyanim in their living rooms – for some, it’s just a Friday night thing; for others, it’s more permanent.  But it’s pretty clear from the Gemara here that house-minyanim don’t quite make the cut. 

There’s nothing like davening in a shul.  Our Sages tell us that ideally one should strive to daven in the biggest shul in town, because “the King is glorified with a mass of people.”  It might be more convenient to make a house-minyan on your block rather than schlep seven minutes to get to shul, but the Almighty takes great pleasure when He sees us all davening together under one great roof.

That was the beauty of the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple).  It was the one place on Earth that we could come together as a nation and pray in unison.  Do you think it was easy for everyone to get along?  Do you think there were no ‘shul politics’ in the biggest shul in the world?  Of course there were issues.

Sadly, that’s ultimately why the Temple was destroyed.  Our Sages tell us that the underlying cause was sinas chinam – unjustified animosity.  What is sinas chinam?  It doesn’t mean that people disdain one another for no reason at all – that would be very strange, and we’re talking about regular, good Yiden!  No, it means a certain lack of tolerance and respect for others’ opinions and approaches. 

During the time of the Second Temple, there were a lot of different factions in Jerusalem, not unlike the world in which we find ourselves today; or for that matter, throughout most of our history.  For much of the Temple period, somehow the Beis Hamikdash administrators managed to keep it all together.  But after a while, people started making breakaway shuls.  At one point, our Sages tell us there were four hundred eighty shuls in Jerusalem! (Eicha Rabba Intro)

Can you imagine, the Beis Hamikdash was around the corner – the Holy Temple that we’ve pined over for two thousand years – and people were making house-minyanim because they couldn’t figure out how to tolerate the people who davened a few feet away from them in the Temple courtyard?!  Maybe they wore a different yarmulke.  Maybe they held different political views.  Maybe they were of a different social class.  At the end of the day, they just weren’t people they wanted to sit in shul with.

Any parent will tell you that each one of their children is different.  But what do they want more than anything?  That despite the differences they all get along.  And that’s what our Father in Heaven wants.  May you always rise to the challenge of uniting with every one of your spiritual brothers and sisters, even those who might have different opinions!  

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