Mourning

Mourning has two purposes, two things which are engendered by
the ritual and emotional expression of mourning. The first one is the statement:
Something is not right. I’m missing something that is so serious that I
can’t continue my regular routine and I can’t be involved in the usual
niceties of ordinary life. My loss is so great that I simply don’t care about
them. They are obliterated by a terrible sense of lacking something so
fundamental that I cannot continue life as usual without it. When a close and
beloved relative dies, this is what a person feels. If he were to simply keep
going, proceed with life as usual, it would seem as if his loss were no real
loss at all, as though nothing very serious had happened. So even where a person
may have no deep sense of loss, the Torah requires him (on the first day) and
the rabbonum require him (for an additional six days) to honor the memory of the
person who died and show, by keeping the laws of mourning, that their death was
a meaningful event. By abstaining, as the law requires of a mourner, from the
minor comforts of bathing and having a haircut, he conducts himself as though he
was too preoccupied with his loss, to much in anguish to pay attention to them.

When we keep the laws of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, we
do much the same thing. We don’t wash our clothes for nine days as though we
were overwhelmed by our grieving. We don’t wear newly laundered clothing to
express the indifference about such things that a person would feel when he is
grieving deeply. When we mourn for a close relative, observing these laws
expresses our real feelings. The experience of personal loss can be truly
overwhelming. When we mourn for the Beis Hamikdash, observing these laws
engenders the grief which is appropriate. It awakens us, indirectly, to the
feeling that even today, two thousand years after the event, the recollection of
the destruction move us as though it had just happened, and it effects us with
the same shock we would feel if someone close to us had died.

A second aspect of mourning is commiserating with the
difficulties that the soul goes through as it makes its journey from this world
to the next world. When a person dies, his soul leaves the physical world.
People who were clinically dead but were later revived report that they felt
very good during those first few minutes. They felt no pain. They felt free. But
that simple, positive feeling doesn’t last very long. After that, the Zohar
tells us, the transition from this world to the next is a very traumatic
experience. For the first three days, the soul doesn’t know where it belongs.
In its confusion, it runs back and forth from the house to the grave. After
three days, it becomes a little more settled in the spiritual world. By the
thirtieth day, it is still more settled, and by the end of a year, it is totally
settled. When the family shows that it is also going through a difficult period
of transition, it makes the soul feel better. It helps the soul go through this
difficult passage from this world to the next. In order to commiserate with the
soul, a person has to be more in touch with the spiritual world. This is made
easier when a person withdraws some of his concern from the routine and external
aspects of his life.

When we mourn for the Beis Hamikdosh we also withdraw from
the routine and external aspects of life because that’s the only way to link
into the essential nature of our loss. It’s not just, or even essentially, the
physical destruction that we mourn. It’s the departure of the Divine Presence,
a spiritual loss akin to death that is the real object of our grieving, just as
it is our desire for the Divine Presence which dwells in the Beis Hamikdash that
is the real object of our hope and our yearning. That’s a spiritual loss. The
only way to feel it is to avoid the distractions of our minor pleasures,
entertainments and routines. The mourning process for the Beis Hamikdash is a
spiritual discipline, something akin to a spiritual retreat, which intensifies
our consciousness of our ultimate desire, and helps us realize that there’s
really only one thing we want in life, and when we don’t get it, everything
else loses its sparkle: we want to be close to G-d. We want the Presence of G-d
among us.