In 586 BCE the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and a large part of the Jewish community living in Eretz Israel was exiled to Babylonia. Normally, when a people is exiled to a foreign land, they get absorbed into society and disappear. Not so with us. If anything, Babylonian exile, and Roman exile in 70CE, were responsible for a transformation and strengthening of Jewish learning, practice, observance and identity.
We no longer had a central place for sacrificial offerings, and without them, the kohanim and leviim no longer had jobs. We couldn’t observe the pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot the way we had been, and without the High Priest and the Yom Kippur ritual, how would we make atonement for our sins?
We are a resilient people, and because of our commitment to Jewish peoplehood, we figured out how to stay Jewish during very difficult times–we adapted. Our kitchen tables because the new altars, and instead of taking a sacrifice to the priest, we ate a Shabbat or festival meal with our family and friends. We learned how to do things for ourselves: Remember and observe Shabbat? Candles and wine! And a nice dinner with singing and schmoozing. Instead of the temidim, the regular/daily offerings, we instituted personal and communal prayer.
In essence, we democratized Jewish observance and ritual and empowered the community. The home became the focus of observance and celebration, and people learned how to “do Jewish” themselves, rather than assuming that a class of priests would do it for them.
We need to reclaim DIY Judaism. We can create somewhat of a sense of community on Zoom and other online platforms, but given how much time so many of us are spending at home, creating a makom kadosh, a “holy space” in our homes and in our lives can help keep us connected to our Judaism, and to others as well.
Make no mistake, the destruction of our two Holy Temples–major tragic events in our history, is mourned each year on Tisha B’Av, the 9th Day of Av, with fasting, prayer and lamentation. But as that day wears on, our prayers take on a more hopeful note, and remind ourselves that we–Jews–are still here.
My job as a rabbi is to help empower you to live your Judaism in ways that are meaningful to you–to empower you to pray on your own, to learn how to make Shabbat special, to draw closer to God and community. Let’s take this journey together.