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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Responses to the Churban: Crying, Laughing and Taking Action

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on August 10, 2016)
Topics: 3 Week/9 Days/Tisha B'Av, Machshava/Jewish Thought, Mikdash, Korbanot and Kohanim, Moadim/Holidays

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The most immediate response to the destruction of the Temple was crying, sorrow and lamentations – a response that we try to relive on Tisha b’Av.  But it is not possible, certainly on a national level, for the sense of tragedy and loss to dominate and define our religious life.  We thus find that soon after the destruction, other responses began to emerge, not only crying, but also laughing and a taking of action and shifting of priorities.  All of these responses remain appropriate today, and we must give each one its due in our religious life.


The most famous story about opposing reactions to the Churban is found in Gemara Makkot {source ‎1}.  The response of crying over the destruction is the natural one, but Rabbi Akiva laughs.  How did he explain why he was laughing? How would you reframe this in theological terms?  What implications does R. Akiva’s response have for one’s religious focus – should it be directed to the past, the present, or the future?  

What do you think is the significance of the word נחמתנו, “you have consoled us”?  What person requires consolation?  What should be the result of being consoled in terms of how a person moves forward?

  1. Bavli, Makkot (24b)   |   (:בבלי, מכות (כד
שוב פעם אחת היו עולין לירושלים, כיון שהגיעו להר הצופים קרעו בגדיהם. כיון שהגיעו להר הבית, ראו שועל שיצא מבית קדשי הקדשים, התחילו הן בוכין ור”ע מצחק.

אמרו לו: מפני מה אתה מצחק?

אמר להם: מפני מה אתם בוכים?

אמרו לו, מקום שכתוב בו והזר הקרב יומת ועכשיו שועלים הלכו בו ולא נבכה?

אמר להן: לכך אני מצחק, … באוריה כתיב: לכן בגללכם ציון שדה תחרש [וגו’,] בזכריה כתיב: עוד ישבו זקנים וזקנות ברחובות ירושלם, עד שלא נתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה – הייתי מתיירא שלא תתקיים נבואתו של זכריה, עכשיו שנתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה – בידוע שנבואתו של זכריה מתקיימת.

בלשון הזה אמרו לו: עקיבא, ניחמתנו! עקיבא, ניחמתנו.

Once again they (Rabban Gamliel, Rebbe Eliezer ben Azaryeh, Rebbe Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva) were coming up to Jerusalem together, and just as they came to Mount Scopus they saw a fox emerging from the Holy of Holies. They fell a-weeping and R. Akiva seemed merry.

Wherefore, said they to him, are you merry?

Said he: Wherefore are you weeping?

Said they to him: A place of which it was once said, “And the foreigner that draws nigh shall die,” is now become the haunt of foxes, and should we not weep?

Said he to them: Therefore am I merry; … In the [earlier] prophecy [in the days] of Uriah it is written, “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field etc.” In Zechariah it is written, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem.” So long as Uriah’s [threatening] prophecy had not had its fulfilment, I feared that Zechariah’s prophecy might not be fulfilled; now that Uriah’s prophecy has been [literally] fulfilled, it is quite certain that Zechariah’s prophecy also is to find its literal fulfilment.

Said they to him: Akiva, you have comforted us! Akiva, you have comforted us!

The rabbis walking with Rabbi Akiva wept when they saw the destroyed Temple.  There is no indication that they were in ongoing grief over its loss; quite the contrary – they only reacted when seeing it directly in its state of destruction, but their weeping indicated a depth of despair.   In contrast, although Rabbi Akiva was quite willing to have rent his garment earlier and show proper mourning, he was not prepared to allow it to pull a person into a state of despair.

He responded by laughing; by expressing faith and hope.  His response was both theological and practical.  On a theological plane, he was stating that far from interpreting the destruction of the Temple as God having abandoned us and an undermining of faith, it should in fact be seen as a sign of God’s ongoing connection to us and a strengthening of faith.  This event was not random, but was part of God’s plan and was prophesied in advance.  God is in an ongoing relationship with us, and this destruction is only the first step in a process that will lead to ultimate redemption.

His response was also practical.  We cannot live our lives looking backwards at what we lost.  We must look forwards, towards the future, with full faith that there will again be a Temple, and this faith and hope should direct our religious lives in the present.

The use of the word “consoled” is significant.  When a person loses a close relative, there is time for deep mourning – the day of the death and the week following the death.  But over time the mourning becomes less intense – a month passes and then a year – and hopefully the person finds some consolation.  Being consoled does not mean, God forbid, forgetting about the person who has passed.  That loss will most likely always be felt.  But it means coming to terms with it, not letting it absorb one’s life, and allowing oneself to move on.  This was R. Akiva’s response – our faith must guide us forward, we cannot become absorbed in our sense of loss.


One of the rabbis in the group with Rabbi Akiva was Rabbi Yehoshua, a teacher of Rabbi Akiva.  In the Gemara in Baba Batra {source ‎2}, a story is related about how Rabbi Yehoshua engaged a group of people who were mourning grievously over the loss of the Temple.  What is his response to them?  Does he say that their behavior is completely inappropriate? What balance does he find for how mourning over the Temple should be best expressed?  In the final quotes from the Biblical verses, can you hear an echo of the exchange that Rabbi Akiva had with the other rabbis (including R. Yehoshua)?

2. Bavli, Baba Batra, 60b   |     (:בבלי, בבא בתרא (ס

ת”ר: כשחרב הבית בשניה, רבו פרושין בישראל שלא לאכול בשר ושלא לשתות יין.

נטפל להן ר’ יהושע, אמר להן: בני, מפני מה אי אתם אוכלין בשר ואין אתם שותין יין?

אמרו לו: נאכל בשר שממנו מקריבין על גבי מזבח, ועכשיו בטל? נשתה יין שמנסכין על גבי המזבח, ועכשיו בטל?

אמר להם: א”כ, לחם לא נאכל, שכבר בטלו מנחות!  – אפשר בפירות.

פירות לא נאכל, שכבר בטלו בכורים! –  אפשר בפירות אחרים.

מים לא נשתה, שכבר בטל ניסוך המים! -שתקו.

אמר להן: בני, בואו ואומר לכם: שלא להתאבל כל עיקר אי אפשר – שכבר נגזרה גזרה, ולהתאבל יותר מדאי אי אפשר – שאין גוזרין גזירה על הצבור אא”כ רוב צבור יכולין לעמוד בה…

אלא כך אמרו חכמים: סד אדם את ביתו בסיד, ומשייר בו דבר מועט… עושה אדם כל צרכי סעודה, ומשייר דבר מועט… עושה אשה כל תכשיטיה, ומשיירת דבר מועט…

שנאמר: אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני תדבק לשוני לחכי וגו’…

וכל המתאבל על ירושלים – זוכה ורואה בשמחתה, שנאמר: שִׂמְחוּ אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְגִילוּ בָהּ כָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ שִׂישׂוּ אִתָּהּ מָשׂוֹשׂ כָּל הַמִּתְאַבְּלִים עָלֶיהָ

Our Rabbis taught: When the Temple was destroyed for the second time, large numbers in Israel became ascetics, binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink wine.

  1. Joshua entered into conversation with them and said to them: My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?

They replied: “Shall we eat meat which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that this altar is now annulled? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar, but now no longer?”

He said to them: If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the meal offerings have ceased. – “We can manage with fruit” [they replied.]

We should not eat fruit either, [he said,] because there is no longer an offering of first fruits. – “We can manage with other fruits”

But, [he said,] we should not drink water, because there is no longer any ceremony of the pouring of water. To this they could find no answer.

He said to them: My sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure…

Rather, the Sages have ordained thus: A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare… A man can prepare a full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or two… A woman can put on all her ornaments, but leave off one or two…

For so it says, If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I remember thee not, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy…

And whoever mourns for Zion will be privileged to behold her joy, as it says, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her” (Isa. 66:10).

The ascetics that R. Yehoshua encountered were committed to live a life in grief over the Temple and expressed this by living a life of asceticism and self-denial.  It should be noted that this is far more than the group of rabbis who were travelling with R. Akiva, who only reacted when actually seeing the Temple in its state of destruction.   The reaction of this group, by contrast, was seen as extreme – to constantly be mourning the destruction of the Temple is not a healthy way to live a religious life.  It mires a person in grief and does not allow for a person to grow religiously or to make a contribution to the world.  This group is, in fact, identified as “ascetics,” people whose religiosity is expressed primarily through withdrawal from the world.

  1. Yehoshua demonstrates to them that they cannot be fully consistent with their position, and that the response of mourning has to be balanced with the need to live in the world.  Thus, while not completely ruling it that this might be acceptable for some individuals, this response is clearly wrong for the community as a whole.  The proper response is to give the grief some symbolic expression, but to not let it absorb our lives.
  2. Yehoshua’s response reflects R. Akiva’s response from the previous story.  He affirms the appropriateness of a symbolic response (e.g., leaving a part of the house unplastered) – just as R. Akiva shared in the rending of the garments – while he rejects an over-indulgent response – just as R. Akiva rejected the weeping of the rabbis.  Most significant is his final statement.  It is not only a statement of hope in the future redemption, but – like R. Akiva – quotes a Biblical verse showing that the seeds for the future redemption are present in the current destruction.  Grief for the destruction is proper and appropriate, but it must be in the context of realizing that this is a stage to the future redemption.  With the grief must come faith and hope.


A very different response to that of R. Akiva is the response of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai.  Look at the following story from Avot d’Rebbe Natan {source ‎3} which parallels the first story of R. Akiva and the rabbis, except here the protagonist is Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai.  [The foil is also once again R. Yehoshua, a student of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai and a teacher of Rabbi Akiva.]

What is Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai’s response to Rabbi Yehoshua’s grieving?  How does it differ from R. Akiva’s response?  Does he say that our prayers count as if they were sacrifices, or is he saying something else?  What is the significance of the verse he quotes from Hoshea?

3. Avot d’Rebbe Natan, A, Chapter 4   |    אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא א פרק ד

פעם אחת היה רבן יוחנן בן זכאי יוצא מירושלים והיה ר’ יהושע הולך אחריו וראה בית המקדש חרב

אמר ר’ יהושע אוי לנו על זה שהוא חרב מקום שמכפרים בו עונותיהם של ישראל.

א”ל בני אל ירע לך יש לנו כפרה אחת שהיא כמותה ואיזה זה גמילות חסדים שנאמר כי חסד חפצתי ולא זבח (הושע ו’ ו’). שכן מצינו בדניאל איש חמודות שהיה מתעסק בגמילות חסדים. ומה הן גמילות חסדים שהיה דניאל מתעסק בהם אם תאמר עולות וזבחים מקריב בבבל והלא כבר נאמר השמר לך פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה כי אם במקום אשר יבחר ה’ באחד שבטיך שם תעלה עולותיך (דברים י”ב י”ג י”ד)

אלא מה הן גמילות חסדים שהיה מתעסק בהן היה מתקן את הכלה ומשמחה ומלווה את המת ונותן פרוטה לעני ומתפלל שלשה פעמים בכל יום ותפלתו מתקבלת ברצון שנאמר…

One time, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem and he say Rebbe Yehoshua going after him, and he saw the Temple destroyed.  

Rebbe Yehoshua said: “Woe to us that this is destroyed!  The place where the sins of Israel were atoned for!”

He said to him: “My son, do not be distraught.  We have an atonement that is similar to this.  And what is it? It is acts of loving-kindness, as it says, “For I desire loving-kindness, not sacrifice.” (Hoshea 6:6).  And so we find regarding Daniel, that he was involved in loving-kindness.  And what loving-kindness was he involved in?  If you say he was offering burnt-offerings and sacrifices in Babylon, but the verse states “Guard yourself lest you offer your burnt-offerings in any place that you see, save the place that the Lord will choose from one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt-offerings (Deut. 12-13-14).

But rather what loving-kindness did he perform?  He would prepare the bride and cause her to rejoice, and accompany the dead, and give a coin to the poor, and pray three times a day, and his prayer was received with desire, as it states…

In stark contrast to R. Akiva, Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai moves the focus away from the Temple, even from a future, rebuilt Temple. Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai’s response is that there are forms of atonement of religious worship which are equivalent – just as good –as those of Temple worship.  He says that our prayers are received ברצון, with desire – purely on their own accord.  Notice that this is not the principle of ונשלמה פרים שפתנו, that our prayers are treated like sacrifices, which recognizes that sacrifices are the ideal, but rather that they are כמותה, equivalent to sacrifices.  [These two ways of how to see prayer relates to the debate of whether prayer corresponds to the sacrifices or to the prayer of the forefathers; Rav Yochana ben Zakkai is clearly siding with the latter approach.]  

Not only does Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai  give prayer and acts of loving-kindness their own intrinsic religious weight equivalent to that of sacrifices, he even alludes to a more radical possibility.  He quotes the verse in Hoshea, “for I want loving-kindness, not a sacrifice,” implying that these forms of worship, namely, prayer and acts of kindness, are better than sacrifices. [Clearly, the verse in context is meant as a critique of sacrifices that are brought without concomitant ethical life, but the subtext of its being quoted here is clear.]  

  1. Akiva’s response of hope and faith focuses us on the future.  Although a powerful antidote to excessive mourning, it comes with the cost of implicitly conceding that our current religious existence is only second-rate.  We have faith for a future time when we will be able to live our lives according to its religious ideal, but right now we are living an impaired religious existence.  Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai’s response, in contrast, is to state that in the absence of the Temple, our religious life can be just as vibrant and meaningful as before.  There now are other centers of holiness and religious activity – perhaps quieter, more private forms – prayer, helping a bride, accompanying a body to be buried – but these are just as powerful as the worship in the Temple.

This is not to say that Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai did not fully feel the profound religious loss of the Temple – he actually lived through its destruction.  This is rather a question of religious leadership and of shaping a religious life.  Now that we don’t have the Temple we have three choices:

  1. Look back – be in a constant state of mourning over the loss of the Temple
  2. Look to the future – Mourn the loss of the Temple and have faith and hope in its future rebuilding, while living religious lives that we experience to be less than ideal
  3. Live in the preset – mourn the loss of the Temple, while living religious lives that we experience to be equally vibrant and meaningful

The ascetics adopted the first response.  Rabbi Akiva, the second.  Rabban Yochan ben Zakka, the third.  His greatness as a religious leader was to recognize that however profound the loss of the Temple was, it was his responsibility as a leader, and our responsibility as a people, to find new centers of kedusha, and to affirm that our current religious life was as powerful and meaningful as it was before the Temple was destroyed.  Certainly there would be times when we have to acknowledge otherwise, and to realize that our religious lives were less than ideal because there was no Temple and no sacrifices.  But these would be proscribed times – when seeing the Temple destroyed, when putting ashes on the head of the groom, during the week and day of Tisha b’Av.  But for us to live a healthy religious life, our regular mindset must be that of living a lichatachila religious existence, with sources of kedusha and worship equivalent to that of the Temple.


The competing approaches of Rabbi Akiva and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai can be seen reflected in a number of Talmudic passages, and in historical events.  The story from Gittin {source ‎4}, tells of a deal that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai made with Vespasian before the latter destroyed the Temple.  What was that deal?  How does it reflect a historical reality?

The passage also relates that Rabbi Yosef, or possibly Rabbi Akiva, critiqued his actions as foolish.  Where was this critique coming from?

4. Bavli, Gittin (56b)   |   (:תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין (נו

אמר ליה: מיזל אזילנא ואינש אחרינא משדרנא, אלא בעי מינאי מידי דאתן לך.

אמר ליה: תן לי יבנה וחכמיה…

קרי עליה רב יוסף, ואתימא רבי עקיבא: +ישעיהו מד+ משיב חכמים אחור ודעתם יסכל, איבעי למימר ליה לשבקינהו הדא זימנא. והוא סבר, דלמא כולי האי לא עביד, והצלה פורתא נמי לא הוי.

He (Vespasian) said (to R. Yochana ben Zakkai); I am now going, and will send someone to take my place. You can, however, make a request of me and I will grant it.

He said to him: Give me Yavneh and its Wise Men…

R. Yosef, or some say R. Akiva, applied to him the verse, ‘[God] turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish’. He ought to have said to him; Let them [the Jews] off this time. He, however, thought that so much he would not grant, and so even a little would not be saved.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the Temple, realized that the end was inevitable.  Rather than trying to hold on to the impossible, he made his peace with the current reality, and made plans for how the people and the religion would survive moving forward.  He realized that there would need to be a new center of kedusha, and that would be Yavneh.  Yavneh would replace Jerusalem, and talmud Torah would replace Temple worship as the center of religious activity.  R. Yochanan ben Zakkai focused neither on holding onto a lost past nor on wishing for a messianic and yet-to-be-realized future.  He focused rather on the present and the realistic future, and planned accordingly.  In so doing, he gave us a Judaism that was fully vibrant in the present.

[It is also interesting to contrast the focus on talmud Torah, here, over the focus on prayer and gemilut chasadim in the previous story.  Perhaps the difference is the following: Yavneh is a religious center and takes the place of the Temple.  But just as the Temple worship was limited to the kohanim and to those who could make it to Jerusalem, a life of talmud Torah was limited to the scholarly elite.  While Torah would be the new focal point of kedusha for the nation, on the individual level, a lay person’s religious life would be defined by that of prayer and good deeds.]

In contrast, Rabbi Akiva (or Rabbi Yosef), would have been unwilling, had they lived at that time, to accept the reality that the Temple was about to be destroyed.  The Temple was so central to their religious life, that they would have tried to hold onto it, even in face of the impossible.  This is how Rabbi Akiva’s faith in the future Temple, in the necessary centrality of the Temple, would have played out at the time of its imminent destruction.  This is how Rabbi Akiva would have theoretically responded had he been alive at the time.  But we do know how Rabbi Akiva actually did respond to the historical events of his time.  R. Akiva backed Bar Kokhba and believed him to be the moshiach who would herald in the rebuilding of the Temple.  Central to Rabbi Akiva’s religious life was a pining for the future in which the Temple would be rebuilt, and he acted accordingly.


Another reflection of these two approaches can be seen in the debate between Rabbi Tarfon, a student of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Akiva regarding the brakhah made during the seder over the completing of the telling of the story of the Exodus {source ‎5}. How is this debate in line with the two approaches we explored above?

5. Mishnah Pesachim, 10:6   |    משנה פסחים י:ו

וחותם בגאולה

רבי טרפון אומר אשר גאלנו וגאל את אבותינו ממצרים ולא היה חותם

רבי עקיבא אומר כן ה’ א-להינו וא-להי אבותינו יגיענו למועדים ולרגלים אחרים הבאים לקראתינו לשלום שמחים בבנין עירך וששים בעבודתך ונאכל שם מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים כו’ עד ברוך אתה ה’ ג[ו]אל ישראל:

And he concludes with [a formula of] redemption.

  1. Tarfon (student of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai) used to say: “Who redeemed us and redeemed our fathers from Egypt,” but he did not conclude [with a final blessing].  

R. Akiva said: “So may the Lord our God and the God of our father suffer us to reach other seasons and festivals which come towards us for peace, rejoicing in the rebuilding of thy city and glad in thy service, and there we will partake of the sacrifices and the Passover-offerings etc. As far as Blessed art thou, O :Lord, who hast redeemed [redeems] Israel.”

For Rabbi Tarfon, the brakhah is about one thing: blessing God for having redeemed us from Egypt.  In contrast, for Rabbi Akiva, any past redemption must give us hope for the future redemption.  But with this giving of hope comes a cost – a recognition that our current religious life is second-rate.  And here that point is made explicitly.  In the very text of the brakhah we state that we look forward to a time when we can do the seder night like it really should be done – with the eating of the korban pesach.  While no one would debate that currently we are not fulfilling all the mitzvot of the seder night, the debate here is whether this is a point that should be made explicitly.  Is it important to emphasize what we don’t have now and our hope for the future, or to focus on the powerful sources of our religious experience and life of Torah and mitzvot in the present?


We have seen that Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai emphasized the vibrancy of the present over a focus on the past or the future.  At the same time, he recognized that we must give time to mourn over and remember the Temple.  We have seen above some forms of this: leaving a part of the house unplastered and the like.  A different sent of practices are mentioned in the Mishnayot as takanot, institutions, established by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai specifically to remember the Temple.  See the Mishna and Gemara in Sukkah {source ‎6}.  How is the emphasis of this practice different from the practices mentioned in Baba Batra {source ‎2‎}?  Notice also that the verse quoted here is different than the one quoted above.   What do you make of this difference?  Now see how Rav Soloveitchik explains these differences {source ‎7}.  Whose approach do you see this most reflecting – that of R. Akiva or of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai

6.  Bavli, Sukkah (41a)   |    (.בבלי, סוכה (מא

משנה]  בראשונה היה לולב ניטל במקדש שבעה, ובמדינה יום אחד. משחרב בית המקדש התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי שיהא לולב ניטל במדינה שבעה, זכר למקדש. ושיהא יום הנף כולו אסור.

גמרא] מנא לן דעבדינן זכר למקדש? אמר רבי יוחנן: דאמר קרא כי אעלה ארכה לך וממכותיך ארפאך נאם ה’ כי נדחה קראו לך ציון היא דרש אין לה, דרש אין לה – מכלל דבעיא דרישה.

Mishnah] Originally the lulav was shaken in the Sanctuary during seven days and in the country only one day. When the temple was destroyed Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai ordained that the lulav should be shaken in the country seven days, in remembrance of the Sanctuary. [He] also [ordained] that during the whole of the day of the waving [of the Omer] the new grain should be forbidden.

Gemara] From where do we know that we must perform [ceremonies] in memory of the Temple? — R. Yochanan replied, Since Scripture says, “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, says the Lord, Because they have called thee an outcast. She is Zion, there is none that seek her out” – “There is none that seek her out” implies that she should be sought.

7. Reshimot Shiurim, HaRav Soloveitchik, Sukkah (41b)   |    (:רשימות שיעורים, הגרי”ד סולוביצ’יק, סוכה (מא

מנ”ל דעבדינן זכר למקדש כשמביאה הגמ’ במס’ ב”ב (ס:) את מנהגי האבילות בזה”ז שהם זכר למקדש כגון כשסד אדם את ביתו בסיד משייר בו אמה על אמה כנגד הפתח בלתי מסויד זכר למקדש וכן מנהג שימת האפר בראשי החתנים זכר למקדש היא מבארת הטעם ע”י הפסוק אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני ולכאורה קשה למה לא הביאה הגמ’ דידן אותו הפסוק ואותן ההלכות דאבלות זכר למקדש?

ונראה שבזכר למקדש יש שני דינים

א) הלכות אבילות זכר למקדש זוהי הגמ’ בב”ב היסוד של דינים אלו נלמד מהפסוק “אם אשכחך ירושלים” והוא לזכור ירושלים כפי שהיתה ולהתאבל על חורבנה

ב) דין לזכור את המצוות הקשורות למקדש היינו להעלות על לבנו את המקדש כשיהיה בבניינו ב”ב וזוהי הסוגיא שלפנינו. יסוד דינים אלו מהפסוק “ציון היא דורש אין לה” אין בכך חלות אבילות על העבר אלא קיום על שם העתיד לבא כשהמקדש יבנה

ויתכן שזכר כפול זה מרומז בקרא במגילת איכה “זכרה ירושלים ימי עניה ומרודיה כל מחמדיה אשר היו לה מימי קדם” –  “ימי עניה ומרודיה” היינו החורבן והאבילות עליו, “כל מחמדיה” היינו המצוות שנתקיימו במקדש מאז ואנו מקיימים אותן עתה ע”ש המקדש כשיהיה בבניינו.

“From where do we know that we [do rituals in] remembrance of the Temple?” – when the Gemara in Baba Batra (60b) records the practices of mourning nowadays that we do in remembrance of the Temple – for example, when I person plasters his house, he must leave a cubit by a cubit opposite the door unplastered in remembrance of the Temple, and similarly the practice of putting ashes on the foreheads of grooms in remembrance of the Temple – it explains the reason for this based on the verse, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget”.  On the face of it, this is difficult – why did our Gemara not cite the same verse and list the same practices of mourning [as appear in Baba Batra] which are done in remembrance of the Temple?

It seems [that the explanation is] that zekher li’mikdash has two aspects to it:

[1] The laws of mourning that are done in remembrance of the Temple.  This is the Gemara in Baba Batra.  The basis for these laws are learning from the verse “If I forget thee O Jerusalem,” and its purpose is to remember Jerusalem as it was [in its past glory] and to mourn over its destruction.

[2] The requirement to remember the mitzvot that are associated with the Temple, that is to say, to remember and imagine the Temple as it will be when it will be rebuilt, speedily in our days.  This is the Talmudic discussion here [in Succah].  The basis for these laws is from the verse, “She is Zion, there are none that seek her out”.  There is not in this any aspect of mourning for the past, but rather an act of religious meaning regarding the future which will arrive when the Temple is rebuilt.

It is possible that this double aspect of remembrance is alluded to in the verse in Eicha: “ Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old.” (1:7). – “The days of her affliction and of her miseries” – this refers to the destruction and the mourning over it. “All of her pleasant things” – these are the mitzvot that were fulfilled in the Temple in the past and that we fulfil now to represent what will be in the Temple when it is rebuilt.

Rav Soloveitchik has pointed to the way in which the passage in Sukkah differs from that in Baba Batra. He states that the practices in Baba Batra are meant to remember, and mourn for, the destruction of the Temple, whereas the practices in Sukkah are meant to remember  the Temple in its glory, the rituals that were performed there, and to imagine what it will be in the future.  Therefore the first a practices of mourning, while the second are practices of reliving religious ritual.  In an even sharper formulation, the Rav has been quoted as saying that the practices in Baba Batra are zekher li’churban, to remember the destruction, while the practices in Sukkah are zekher li’mikdash, to remember the Temple as it was when it was built. This framing is a beautiful expression of Rabbi Akiva’s approach – a mourning for the past with a hope for the future.  


It is possible, however, that Rabban Yochana ben Zakkai’s takanot were not meant so much to focus us on the future as to give our present greater religious power and vibrancy.  As I have written about elsewhere, a close look at these takanot reveal that their impact was not to make us sense our loss over not having the Temple, nor even to help us imagine what things would look like in a future Temple.  Just consider – how many people who take the lulav on Chol HaMoed are even aware that they are not doing a Torah mitzvah, let alone think that this has something to do with the Temple? If one were looking for a ritual that reminds us of the Temple, she could point to the hoshanah procession – that is a new ritual whose purpose is obvious: to remind us of a similar Temple ritual.  But this was not a ritual instituted by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.  All of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s takanot to remember the Temple were a continuation, and at times expansion, of a practice that existed outside the Temple. What he had established was simply this: all these practices would continue even after there was no Temple.  The effect of his takanot were to expand existing mitzvot.  When there was a Temple – lulav was only taken one day outside of the Temple.  Now, post-Temple, it was taken for all seven days everywhere – the mitzvah had expanded, had bust beyond the confines of the Temple.

A sharp expression of this is his debate with the Benei Bateira, a family of significance in the Temple hierarchy {source ‎8}. Using his political acumen, Rabban Yochana ben Zakkai was able to establish the practice of blowing the shofar on Shabbat even outside of the Temple.  The Gemara states that the concern here was for accidental carrying of the shofar, but whatever the reason, it seems like something larger was at stake.  What do you think that larger issue was?

8. Talmud Bavli, Rosh Hashana (29b)   |    (:תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה (כט

משנה]  יום טוב של ראש השנה שחל להיות בשבת במקדש היו תוקעים אבל לא במדינה משחרב בית המקדש התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי שיהו תוקעין בכל מקום שיש בו בית דין אמר רבי אלעזר לא התקין רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אלא ביבנה בלבד אמרו לו אחד יבנה ואחד כל מקום שיש בו בית דין:

גמרא]  תנו רבנן: פעם אחת חל ראש השנה להיות בשבת, [והיו כל הערים מתכנסין]. אמר להם רבן יוחנן בן זכאי לבני בתירה: נתקע. – אמרו לו: נדון. – אמר להם: נתקע ואחר כך נדון. לאחר שתקעו אמרו לו: נדון! – אמר להם: כבר נשמעה קרן ביבנה, ואין משיבין לאחר מעשה.

Mishna] If the festive day of New Year fell on a Sabbath, they used to blow the shofar in the Temple but not in the country.  After the destruction of the Temple, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai ordained that it should be blown [on Sabbath] in every place where there was a beit din. R. Eliezer said: Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai laid down this rule for Yavneh only. They said to him: it applies equally to Yavneh and to any place where there is a beit din.

Gemara] Our Rabbis taught: Once New Year fell on a Sabbath [and all the towns assembled], and Rabban Yochanan said to the Benei Bateira, Let us blow the shofar. They said to him, Let us discuss the matter. He said to them, Let us blow and afterwards discuss. After they had blown they said to him, Let us now discuss the question. He replied: The horn has already been heard in Yavneh, and what has been done is no longer open to discussion.

Based on our discussion above the answer is obvious.  On a symbolic level, by allowing the shofar to be blown in Yavneh is a statement that Yavneh has replaced Jerusalem as the religious center.  The other position in the mishna, that it could be done in any beit din, is even a more powerful expression of this.  Now that Torah has replaced the Temple as the center of kedusha, it is more widely accessible.  It is not limited to the one central location – Yavneh – but can be found in any beit din, or wherever Torah is being learned.  This was the genius of Rabban Yochana ben Zakkai’s leadership – to move us from Jerusalem to Yavneh to wherever Torah can be found.


In the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Temple, the responses of Rabbi Akiva and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai were both necessary.  People who were in deep mourning had to be given hope for the future, and people had to be encouraged to refocus their religious priorities and to find meaning and power in their current religious lives.  

Perhaps at that time Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s response was the more urgent one.  In our time, the pendulum has swung.  Most of us already implicitly embrace Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s approach.  We need no encouragement to not focus on the Temple or to see the vibrancy of our current lives of mitzvot and Talmud Torah.  This is a good and healthy thing.  To live full religious lives we must feel that we are not living a second-rate Judaism.  However, what is more needed nowadays, at least at certain times, is the crying-laughing response.  For so many people, it is difficult to connect to a sense of loss over the Temple, even at the brief times devoted for this during the year – the three weeks, the nine days, Tisha b’Av.  If anything, our challenge nowadays is to reconnect with R. Akiva’s response, to find ways – at least during the times in the year designated for it – to try to imagine what is missing from our religious lives, how they are less than ideal, what it means that there is no Temple, to mourn that loss, and to be inspired with a hope and faith  that will drive us to more realize that ideal in the future and in our own lives.
וכל המתאבל על ירושלים – זוכה ורואה בשמחתה, שנאמר: שִׂמְחוּ אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְגִילוּ בָהּ כָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ שִׂישׂוּ אִתָּהּ מָשׂוֹשׂ כָּל הַמִּתְאַבְּלִים עָלֶיהָ