There is a searing story related in the Midrash that describes G-d in a state of agony. “Woe, what have I done?” G-d wails. “I have destroyed the Temple; I have cast out my children! What have I done?”
An angel comes to G-d and says, “Do not cry, G-d. Let me cry your tears and reveal them to the world.”
“No, I will go into My inner chamber and I will cry there,” G-d tells the angel. And He does just that. He enters His inner chamber, locks the door and cries, because He misses and wants the Temple.
But if G-d really missed the Temple, you may be wondering, what would stop Him from re-building it? If G-d really wanted this, why would He not bring the redemption now?
This question is similar to the question, often asked: If G-d really cared about the Jewish people where was He during the Holocaust?
According to this Midrash, G-d was in His inner chamber crying, concealing His tears.
One Tisha B’Av several years ago, I shared this story with a group of students. One of the participants was a fellow named Tom. The son of two Holocaust survivors, Tom was deeply immersed in Holocaust studies, and he was passionately angry with G-d. I was amazed that he even participated in the program, but for some reason something drew him to it.
Afterwards, he approached me and said, “You know, Rabbi, I’ve been waiting so long for a rabbi to tell me that G-d is crying. Now I can cry with G-d, rather than be angry at Him.”
Tom understood that the ways of G-d are beyond our human comprehension, and the tragic events in Jewish history often remain a painful mystery. But nonetheless he was disturbed by the image of G-d sitting in His “ivory tower,” watching us suffer. How could a loving, compassionate father stoically observe the suffering of his children. But now, it dawned on him that G-d experienced our pain also.
If Jews knew just how much G-d is still crying, there would be many more, like Tom, joining G-d in His tears. Most people imagine a powerful G-d, emotionlessly looking at us from heaven above. But, Rabbi Kalymous Kalman Shapira—who was the rabbi of the Warsaw ghetto and eventually perished in a concentration camp—described G-d as having “endless pain.” Our pain is limited because we are limited beings. But in His infinitude, G-d’s pain is endless.
Understanding G-d’s Pain
It is very difficult for us to understand why G-d is in pain, and what He is doing crying in His inner chamber. Further, why would the angel – as described in the Midrash -want to cry G-d’s tears and reveal them to the world?
According to Rabbi Shapira, the angel knew that if G-d’s tears were to be revealed in this world, then the whole world would be destroyed. If we were to hear G-d crying, if we knew how pained G-d was over the state of this world, we would be filled with torturous shame, so much so, that we could not go on living. Our inability to handle G-d’s pain is, therefore, why G-d is compassionately hiding it from us.
Now we can begin to fathom that, when we experience a lack of intervention from G-d, it is not a sign of insensitive abandonment—it is actually a sign of compassionate Divine repression. Sometimes humanity stoops to such a low level of ethical behavior that, should G-d respond with justice, the world would necessarily be destroyed. Therefore, G-d hides—so to speak—in His chamber, because if G-d were to allow His pain to become manifest in this world, we could not take it. In other words, because we are in such denial of G-d’s pain over the cruel acts of humanity, experiencing it would so devastate us that we would die on the spot. We are not ready or willing to acknowledge and feel G-d’s pain.
Now, you may wonder, if having a Temple would stop G-d from crying, then it would seem logical for G-d simply to re-build the Temple.
But He can’t.
G-d cannot re-build the Temple in Jerusalem unless we want it, and the spiritual meaning it represents. Practically speaking, there is no point in the Temple unless we want to embody the presence of G-d in our lives and acknowledge the Godliness within each other. There is no point in bringing the Jewish people back to the Promised Land of Israel unless we acknowledge it as a Holy Land, where G-d’s presence can be felt among us.
If we really understood what we were missing, we would be bawling our eyes out over the fact that we are not home, that we are in exile, and that the Temple has not been re-built. We would be yearning for it and for G-d’s presence among us.
What we are missing, however, is not the building. It is the awareness that a greater presence is absent from our lives. A consciousness of G-d—a desire for G-d in our every day—is gone.
G-d cannot re-build the Temple until we want G-d in our lives and need a Temple to express that holy desire. The Temple remains in ruins, because we do not yet want G-d in our lives enough to warrant a Temple. And this is why G-d is crying.