It's a hot day in Jerusalem.
Workmen wipe sweat, straining
to lift limestone into place.
A brass band: priests in white linen
playing polished trumpets,
Levites smashing cymbals in praise.
Old men weep who remember
when the rubble was whole
and teenagers scream for joy.
They don't know
that jealousy will stop
their construction in its tracks
that some unpaid scribe
will need to hunt the stacks
for a memorandum of permission
that this house too will fall
and the people will scatter
like cornmeal on a baking stone.
Today they celebrate: God
is on our side! No one imagines
how much harder their story will get.
There's something very poignant for me about imagining the rebuilding of the Temple after the years of the Babylonian Exile. Those who remembered the first Temple must have been overwhelmed with joy to see their dreams take shape again.
From the vantage point of where we are now, it's easy to think of the two temples as almost a unit. There was a Temple in Jerusalem, and it was built twice, and then it fell, and Judaism has never been the same. But there was a moment in time when the second one was built, and no one knew it was going to fall just like the first one did.
For all that I cherish the shapes and forms of rabbinic Judaism (and I do!) -- and could not imagine returning to sacrificing animals on a stone altar again -- I can imagine how crushing it must have been when the House of God was toppled.
Thinking about the story of this rebuilding, I find myself holding my breath.
Tisha b'Av, the day when we remember the fall of both temples, falls this weekend and will be observed starting on Saturday night.