Confessions of a Sports Fan
I was blessed with the opportunity of growing up in Winnipeg of the 1960’s and 70’s. One memory that stands out over and above anything else as a child and teenager – was the role of sports in our lives. Not only did we play hockey and football, but we were avid fans of our local professional teams. It’s been 25 years since I left, and to cite a cliché , you can take the boy out of Winnipeg, but you can’t take Winnipeg out of the boy. One indicator: my heart still skips a beat whenever I log onto Bluebombers.com to see where my team is in the Canadian Football League standings.
Many of us were in a real quandary in 1972 when the Winnipeg Jets came to town: Do I remain a fan of the Montreal Canadiens, or do I switch my allegiance to the new home team?
The significance – even for Jews – of professional hockey, is reflected in a brilliant piece in the Big Book of Jewish Humor, in an article entitled A Montrealer Seder. This is a superb parody of a typical seder night in Montreal, where the participants’ attention constantly switches between the content of the Pesach Seder and the Stanley Cup playoffs. In “A Montrealer Seder”, the Ba’alat Habayit kicks off the event by dropping a matzah at Center Ice… For many Canadian Jews, the historical Jewish night of redemption from Egypt takes on a new dimension with the parallel, imminent redemption of their favorite hockey team.
At the end of the Seder, it is traditional to recite, לשנה הבאה בירושלים – Next Year in Jerusalem. Following sporting news from afar, I recently tapped into the excitement surrounding the possibility of the return of the Jets to Winnipeg. For several years now, a group of committed citizens, Jew and non-Jew alike, have been sounding the call, “Next Year in Winnipeg”! Redemption is near!
On a Serious Note
Today is the 14th of Tammuz. The fast of the 17th of Tammuz takes place in just a few days’ time. We are on the brink of the Bein Hemetzarim, the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’av, marking the destruction of the two Batei Hamikdash, the two Temples. Numerous restrictions – not reciting the Shehechiyanu, not cutting hair etc, apply during this period. After the first of Av, to express our ever-intensifying mourning, we refrain from eating meat and drinking wine. This period culminates in Tisha Ba’av, unquestionably the most restrictive, uncomfortable day of the year.
The Gemara states,
כל דור שאינו נבנה בימיו מעלין עליו כאילו הוא החריבו
This is a really heavy guilt trip! If I don’t live in a generation that builds the third Temple, it’s as if I destroyed it?
How is each of us supposed to practically “rebuild the Bet Hamikdash”?
A classic work entitled אם הבנים שמחה attributes the continuation of our long exile to the failure of our people to relocate to Eretz Yisrael. Making Aliyah is indeed a dream of many committed Jews. But for those for whom personal, financial and like reasons stand in the way of such a move, is there nothing short of Aliyah to Israel that we can do to lay the foundation of the Mikdash?
In the next few minutes, I would like to re-examine the concept of חדש ימינו כקדם – “renew our days as of old”. To what should we be directing our thoughts when we say “Next Year in Jerusalem”?
The Gemara in Tractate Berachot 8a, says
אמרו ליה לרבי יוחנן: איכא סבי בבבל. תמה ואמר: למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה כתיב, אבל בחוצה לארץ לא! כיון דאמרי ליה: מקדמי ומחשכי לבי כנישתא, אמר: היינו דאהני להו
כדאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי לבניה: קדימו וחשיכו ועיילו לבי כנישתא, כי היכי דתורכו חיי
They told Rabbi Yochanan: there are old people in Babylonia. He was surprised and said, it says in the verse, “So that your lives and the lives of your children will be made abundant on the Land” – but outside of Israel – not!
Once they explained to him that the people of Babylonia came early and stayed late at the Bet Knesset, he responded by saying, “that’s why they [live so long]” As R. Yehoshua Ben Levi said to his sons: “Go early and stay late in shul, so that you will live long…”
Yet this Gemara still begs the question: If length of days comes to one who dwells in Israel, how do their shul habits impact on their life expectancy?
R. Elazar Hakafar, drawing on a verse in Sefer Yirmiya, sheds light on this question:
“In the future, both synagogues and houses of study in Babylonia will eventually be relocated to Eretz Yisrael.” (Megillah 29a) The destiny reflects an inherent sanctity of the shul – a level of sanctity that approaches Kedushat Eretz Yisrael. This is turn explains how those dedicated shul-goers live longer. The ground of the Bet Knesset is called האדמה. It’s אדמת ארץ ישראל!
What triggers this sanctity?
What gives Eretz Yisrael its Kedusha, its holiness, is G-d’s more intense presence in Eretz Yisrael. What gives the Temple its holiness is the intense presence of Hashem – His Shechina – there. Those who attend shul are tapping into the presence of the שכינה in the shul. When our sages assert that one who does not build the Mikdash in his day effectively destroys it, they are pointing us towards a practical way to rebuild it: to connect to the מקדש מעט – mini-Mikdash – in each and every Jewish community, in the furthest reaches of the diaspora. Not simply to “punch our time cards”, but to arrive early and stay late. One who does so fosters a more profound connection with the shul, allowing its sanctity to seep into his being.
A Torah home is also a מקדש מעט. Rabbinic sources from the time of the Chanukah story discuss how the Greeks, parallel to their desecration of the Beit Hamikdash, violated the sanctity of the Jewish home. They understood that Torah ultimately emanates not from the house of worship, but from the home. In Pirkei Avot, we are advised:יהא ביתך בית ועד לחכמים – Make your home a meeting place for scholars. When we host a shiur and engage in Torah study – we all become Torah scholars. מכל מלמדי השכלתי ומתלמדי יותר מכולם : I have learned from all of my teachers, and from my students more than from all of my teachers. Exchange of ideas sharpens us and transforms us all into Torah sages!
You are a Mikdash!
But the concept of מקדש מעט need not be limited to a mere building. According to the Gemara in Sanhedrin כל אדם שיש בו דעה כאלו נבנה בית המקדש בימיו : Anyone who possesses wisdom – it’s as if the Temple was built in his time. The Torat Chayim explains:
שכל מי שהוא מלא חכמה ודעה את ה’ השכינה שורה עליו והרי הוא שקול כבית המקדש ששרתה בו שכינה ולכך אמרו חכמים שקולה מיתת צדיקים כחורבן בית המקדש
Anyone who is filled with knowledge and understanding of G-d, has the Divine Presence rest on him – and he is therefore equal to the Beit Hamikdash, the resting place of the Shechina. This is what our sages meant when they taught that the death of Righteous people is comparable to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
In other words, there’s another way to build a Beit Hamikdash – and that is to build ourselves: Not only to devoutly attend shul, to invite the Shechina into our homes, but to invite the Shechina into ourselves, through the act of תלמוד תורה, the learning of Torah.
This year, let our mourning for the Temples’ destruction reflect itself in a renewed commitment to rebuilding the Mikdash in our community – by supporting and frequenting the shul and contributing to its vibrancy and by a renewed commitment to injecting our homes and ourselves with Torah learning. If the literal understanding of Next Year in Jerusalem may seem a bit out of reach, why not say “Next Year in Winnipeg”?