This Sunday marks ten years since the infamous attack on the World Trade Center, the largest massacre ever on American soil. The past ten years have seen radical changes in our way of life, from our political and economic situation to our sense of security and our airline travel habits. For residents of New York City, especially, the void is felt palpably with every visit to Lower Manhattan. A glimpse of that gaping hole in the ground brings to mind vividly the terror, the loss, the sense of innocence and security that can never be regained.
The restoration efforts at the World Trade Center site are underway, but the developers of the site faced many sensitive challenges. What could they build that would be meaningful, and respectful of the dignity of the many victims and their loved ones? What would send a message to the world that we refuse to be conquered; we refuse to be ruled by our fears and insecurities? If the buildings would be replaced by yet another complex of office towers, is that a desecration of a sacred monument, or is it actually the greatest tribute to the American spirit and resilience? Should the complex be rebuilt in a more modest fashion, or bigger and better than ever?
The debate raged on for a number of years, and the developers made much effort to respect the diverse needs and wishes of the various stakeholders; it remains to be seen whether the rebuilt towers will ever be magnificent enough to match their symbolic power.
With the theme of destruction and restoration on one’s mind, one can’t help but think of the destruction of a different edifice, one of such symbolic power that the loss still reverberates nearly 2,000 years later. We mourn the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to this day, and mention our hope for its rebuilding multiple times in our prayers.
We have been praying for the return of our Holy Temple for so long that it is difficult to imagine what could be built that would fully meet our expectations, that would serve as a fitting receptacle for the hopes and dreams and prayers of hundreds of generations. Our sages say that G-d Himself will rebuild the Temple in Heaven and it will descend to earth for us to put the final finishing touches.
Over the generations, it has been our challenge to create a physical structure that could serve as an abode for G-d, a place where He can dwell in our midst. There are many ways to accomplish this, starting from our own hearts and our own homes. Each mitzvah that we do in our own home transforms it into a miniature sanctuary for G-d, an oasis of peace and loving-kindness. In turn, our mitzvot also contribute to the Temple in heaven being built by G-d, which will descend with the coming of Moshiach.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote in a letter, “From the day I went to Cheder [elementary school] I have been imagining the final Redemption… A Redemption that would make clear the purpose of our suffering in exile, that would cause us to say with full understanding, ‘I praise you, G-d, for You have been angry with me.’” Only G-d alone can rebuild the Temple in a manner that will justify its destruction – to rebuild one in its place that will be far greater, more beautiful and everlasting.