By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
My father, of blessed memory, was a huge fan of World War II movies. He loved movies that were historically accurate and saved his harshest criticism for movies that were not. Before the days of Netflix, we would scour the television schedules for our favorite movies and plan quality time to watch them together.
So I was quite surprised one day when I found a note on my pillow from my dad telling me that a special documentary was on TV late at night and he wanted to watch it with me. After we settled down on the couch in front of the television, I was even more surprised to discover that the documentary was on World War I. The documentary changed my perception of history. World War I was not, of course, the name used by the people who experienced it. At the time, it was referred to as “The Great War” or (ironically) the “War to End All Wars”. While Word War II included such horrors as the Holocaust and nuclear weapons, World War I introduced automatic weapons, mustard gas, and aerial combat.
From that documentary I learned that while people tend to view history as a series of events, that is not the way we experience history. When we experience history we are in the moment. When World War I began in 1914, the people who experienced it were experiencing the Great War. It was not referred to with a number until 1939 when the next Great War began.
The same is true of the Temples in Jerusalem. When King David established Jerusalem as the political and spiritual capital of Israel, he forged the way to establishing the permanent location of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was then built by his son Solomon. This Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II. Only once the Second Temple was built following the Babylonian exile did the original Temple become known as the First Temple.
While Jews tend to lump the destructions of both Temples together, mourning them both on Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, they were each unique in their own right and the loss of each impacted the nation in its own way.
David hinted at the destruction of the two Temples, and the resulting feelings of loss, in the Book of Psalms.
Psalms 14 and 53 are almost identical. They express concern over the prevalence of evil in the world and the corruption of humanity, and call for deliverance and salvation from the oppression of the wicked. According to the medieval commentator Rashi, in his commentary on Psalm 14:1, in these Psalms King David prophesied the destruction of both Temples; the first (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon) in Psalm 14, and the second (destroyed by Titus of Rome) in Psalm 53.
Yet from the differences in language we can learn about the two Temples and the exiles that followed their destruction. Psalm 53 opens with an enigmatic reference to machalat that is not found in Psalm 14. Rashi gives two possible explanations for the word. His first explanation suggests that it is a musical instrument. The second explanation is that it comes from the Hebrew word machalah, which means “illness.” The word machalet is a reference to the “illness” and suffering experienced by the Jewish people following the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi A.C. Feuer, a noted rabbi and lecturer, explained that this word appears only in Psalm 53 and not in Psalm 14, because the destruction of the second Temple was much worse than the first and resulted in greater “illness.”
Indeed, the destructions of the Temples were catastrophic in and of themselves. But perhaps even more catastrophic were the exiles that ensued after the destruction of each. Though it could be argued that the sanctity of Solomon’s Temple was greater than that of the Second Temple, and therefore its destruction was a greater loss, the Babylonian exile only lasted 70 years. The destruction of the Second Temple, on the other hand, preceded an exile of 2,000 years, an exile in which we still find ourselves today.
David included a second hint to this in the two Psalms. Psalm 14, describing the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, ends with a prayer for the “salvation/deliverance” of Israel, using the singular form of the word yeshua. Psalm 53 ends with a similar prayer but it uses the plural form of the word: yeshuot.
While the destruction of the First Temple was difficult and tragic, it was an event that was short-lived relative to the long and bitter history of the exile of the Jews. It ended shortly afterwards with yeshua, salvation. The destruction of the Second Temple, on the other hand, resulted in a prolonged exile that continues to test Israel’s faith to this day.
Eventually, deliverance from this second exile will come in the form of the ultimate salvation. This will mark the end of all national tragedies and exiles, and result in personal redemption, thereby bringing with it multiple yeshuot. When this happens, the third and final Temple, prophesied to be built during Messianic times and never destroyed, will be constructed.
Let us continue to pray for the ultimate redemption that will bring with it yeshuot for all.