I am a self proclaimed word nerd who loves lexicon and has a dictionary in every room. How language evolves over time and where words and expressions come from is fascinating, especially when shifting context results in differences between modern over original usage.
Commemorating the destruction of the temple, always makes me think of the phrase the body is a temple. I never knew the phrase’s origin, but like the spiritual imagery that aligns with my ideologies of feeding body and soul and getting out what you put in. While a quick search attributes the phrasing to Christian liturgy, Judaism also expresses honoring the body in many ways. Notably, in expressing daily gratitude for the functions of our body and allowing breaking halacha in order to preserve life. So, during Tisha B’Av, my mourning extends to the destruction of black bodies, which feels like a paradox of prayers like Elohai Neshama and the poetry of Psalm 139.
Yet, there is a lot of beauty in the modern Judaism born from the ashes of the temple, decentralized into each of our families and transferring the holy of holies into our hearts, like a turtle, who is never without it’s home. Turtles are evoked whenever I see a child hide under their mother’s skirts or inside their own blanket. I hold this ability to go into my own turtle house when and where, ever I need to. I want to acknowledge and love the broken parts of myself, whether physical, mental, spiritual or a combination of all three. To somehow transition from destruction as damage, different from deconstruction. Re-turning shards in-to a mosaic of beauty.
The idea of mourning AND celebrating is familiar in how funerals can be joyful in their reunion among the living as we mourn the dead. On this Tisha B’Av, after the fires ignited from the destruction of black bodies across the United States of America, the mingling of mourning and joy is poignant. Jews dream of rebuilding the temple, but what if each of us were the stones, simultaneously unique yet interdependent with every other stone, in different but important ways? What if the temple we rebuilt was the world?
I know this may come across as terribly naïve, ignorant of history and completely impossible… but what if it’s not? What if it’s as easy as a decision? Maybe the hard part is choosing to do it every day. As prayer can feel like a chore that detracts from more important things for some and for others is habit from repetition, the work of building the temple is not done when construction is complete. Building maintenance is a lifelong necessity, that, by habit, can be normal, easy and regular, but if ignored and resisted, one day becomes a crisis, potentially a critical collapse.
Architecture feels an apt language for considering the relevance today of the destruction of 2 temples yesterday, but Torah wants us to explore whatever analogy resonates within, that honors our uniqueness and interdependence. Find your voice and your light and share it with the world. Today, we mourn not only the destruction of the temple, but say goodbye to civil justice icon John Lewis, who could have understandably focused on living out his life, but chose to offer one last bit of Torah through the words of Martin Luther King Jr, that “we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice” and in John’s own words, that “ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America” and “answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions”.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” has come to mean more than it’s words, perhaps because Elohai Neshama reminds us that our soul and breath are united. May we redeem the soul of America through the breath of our unique voice, flowing from the temple of humanity to God and back again, breathing as one.