destroy vs demolish

Friday, 5 August, 2022 - 6:43 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was giving an informal talk at a Yartzeit anniversary of a community member. Being that it is the days that lead up to Tisha B’av (see schedule below), the day of national mourning for the destruction of the Bet Hamkidash that became the focus of the discussion.

I asked my listeners to consider the difference between the two words destruction and demolition.

They have very similar meanings. Whether the building was destroyed or demolished it is no longer there.

But I would like to posit that there is a nuanced difference between them.

Destruction connotes getting rid of something. As in, ‘the destruction caused by the earthquake means that it will take years for the country to rebuild and recover’.

Demolition lends itself more to planned removal. As in ‘the reason for the demolition of the bridge was to ensure a safe passage over the river’. A new bridge will be built where the old bridge stood’.

Was the Bet Hamikdash destroyed or demolished?

When I had finished presenting my question which would be the springboard for a discussion on the topic, A lex asked me ‘was the Beth Elisheva synagogue destroyed or demolished’?

And then a lightbulb went on in my head.

First some background.

Once we reached the blessed stage that our community was outgrowing the Beth Elisheva building, we looked to expand the existing building by adding an extension. This would be less complicated in many ways. Before one adds to a building it must first be evaluated. The first step thus was to engage the world class Meinhardt engineering firm to inspect the existing building that was at the time more than thirty years old.

Excerpts from Meinhardt’s report regarding the danger of adding an extension to the existing Beth Elisheva structure:

‘it is therefore recommended, that if a change of usage is required, the building should be demolished, and an appropriately designed structure is built in its place

How about just leaving the building as renovating and redecorating? This next line clinched the argument in favor of demolition.

… it should also be understood that the holding of large gatherings currently as practiced, entails some risk’

In other words, even the existing usage didn’t meet Meinhardt’s exacting standards.

Reading these lines in retrospect, they sound more ominous than they did then. For in the interim, tragically, the concept of risk in building structures has become very well known in the Jewish world. The collapse last year of the Surfside Tower in Miami affected the Jewish community in Miami in an acutely painful and personal way.

‘And when will the new Beth Elisheva building actually happen’ further asked Alex. He added, ‘it is now several years since the building was demolished and the new one has not begun to be built. Is it not a priority for you?’

Before I had a chance to answer, Alex asked me yet a more pointed question ‘the Chabad House project down at Kaosarn Rd started around the same time as Beth Elisheva and yet while the Chabad House beautiful new building is now up and operational, Beth Elisheva not yet built?’

The lightbulb started shining more brightly in my mind.

I now started to understand the dynamics of Tisha B’av in a more personal way.

The Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of our imperfections. The Jewish people had sinned (click here for more details) and thus ‘caused’ the destruction of the Temple.

But does G-d intend it to remain razed?

Or is there a plan to build a replacement?

Clearly Judaism believes in the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash. Our prophets spoke of the coming of Mashiach. This is one of the fundamentals beliefs of Judaism. Part of the ‘job description’ of Mashiach is that he builds a Bet Hamikdash in its intended spot on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

A bigger, better and more beautiful edifice.

An eternal temple.

That cannot be destroyed.

But why is it taking so long?

Well, how long does it take for G-d to ‘finalize the plans for the Bet Hamikdash’?

Is there an ‘industry standard’ for how long building Bet Hamikdash’s take?

We actually do have a precedent to compare with.

You see, this is not the first time we have had a loss of our Bet Hamikdash. We had a ‘First Bet Hamikdash’ for 410 years and then we sinned. As a result, it was destroyed, and we were exiled to Babylon. Seventy years later we were given the Divine ‘go ahead’ to rebuild a better and more beautiful ‘Second Bet Hamkidash’.

So it seems that seventy years is sufficient to build a Bet Hamikdash.

Tragically, after 420 years, we lost that second Bet Hamikdash as well due to sin.

What sin?

My colleague Rabbi Uriel Vigler explained it well,

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Israel with my family. As we waited to check in at JFK, juggling our five young children and multiple pieces of luggage, a stranger walked over and introduced himself. Being a Chabad rabbi, and very visible in my black hat and jacket, I am accustomed to being approached by strangers. But this man had something else on his mind.

Jack* was in JFK with his 12-year-old daughter who was flying alone to spend time with her cousins in Israel. The airlines considered her an unaccompanied minor, so Jack was looking for someone he could trust to take his daughter through security, onto the plane and through Ben Gurion at the other end. Of course, we agreed to help him, and it turned out that his daughter was actually great help with our five kids. Win-win!

But we were some of the last few people to check in, so I asked Jack, "You must've waited here for a long time until you found someone you felt you could trust. Why did you pick us? Aren't we strangers just as much as the next person?"

"Yes, we arrived very early," he explained. "I've been standing here scanning passengers, trying to decide who I could trust with my precious child."

"What made you trust me?" I asked.

"Well, I see that you have five children, and I noticed the way you were holding and hugging your 2-year-old daughter. If that's how you take care of your daughter, especially in this harried situation, I know I can trust you."


This weekend we will make the saddest day on the Jewish calendar-Tisha B'Av. On Tisha B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the first and second holy Beit Hamikdash. Although it's been almost 2,000 years since the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, we yearn for it to be rebuilt.

The Midrash tells us that G-d is waiting and yearning to build the third Beit Hamikdash for us, and on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, our souls get a glimpse of it. So, if we are yearning for it, and G-d is yearning to give it to us, what is He waiting for?

He needs to know that He can trust us.

The last Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam-baseless hatred. So before we can receive the third and final Beit Hamikdash, we need to prove that we can do better.

How do we show G-d that He can trust us?

Like Jack* who was watching me, G-d is waiting for us to "hug" one another. We need to demonstrate our care, concern, love and appreciation for all our fellow Jews, regardless of how well we know them, how much we have in common, or how much we agree on.

G-d is waiting and watching to see how we treat one another. When He sees us loving one another unconditionally, He will again entrust us with the holy Beit Hamikdash and the Final Redemption.

*Name changed to protect the individuals privacy.

It's more than nineteen hundred years after the destruction of the Second Bet Hamkidash. We’ve been through lot since then. We have given a lot of ‘hugs’ to each other. There is so much benevolence and so many good and loving deeds being done. Surely, we must have reached the rectification of the sin.

If seventy years was enough time to get a second Bet Hamikdash, now its about 27 X 70 years later. Surely it should be high time. Why is it taking so long?

Let me jump back to Bangkok 2022.

Why indeed is Bet Elisheva taking longer than Chabad House to build?

I can tell you that for me personally, it is of the highest priority. The delay is not because the new center is unimportant. On the contrary, it is uppermost on my mind. I ask myself those very questions ‘when will it be built’ every day.

So why IS it taking this long?

Because of its greatness and significance.

The Beth Elisheva building will be twice the size of the new Chabad House.

It’s a bigger more sophisticated and multi-faceted campus.

It will be ‘The Jewish Heart of Thailand’ for our local Jewish community.

The campus will contain a wide variety of functions so that it will be relevant to every Jew in Thailand.

A dignified and inspiring Synagogue will feature in the campus. As well as a library and study rooms.

A museum will highlight Thai Jewish history and teach the values and guiding moral light of Judaism. Locals, visitors and schools will come to visit and become educated.

JCafe & Kosher Shop will feature prominently in the building and provide a warm meeting place with a readily available variety of delectable kosher food.

Jewish continuity will be bolstered by the including of a state-of-the-art nursery school, a lounge designed specially for Jewish teens, a gym for youth activities, community offices and of course a Mikvah.

The experts all say that it is worthwhile to spend longer on getting the plan right, then starting to build and then needing to adjust.

The good news is that hopefully the ‘waiting stage’ is at its conclusion. The planning is in the final stages please G-d and hopefully the actual building will start soon.

The Bet Hamikdash we are waiting for is the ‘Wow of Wow of Wow’ buildings. One can understand that something that incredible, takes time. Unquestionable it is worth waiting for.

But its not really a good answer when it comes to the Bet Hamikdash.

For how long can we be expected to wait?

Part of the problem with waiting for something for a long time, is that people lose interest at some stage. It’s human nature. When something just keeps getting delayed and excused, disillusionment starts to seep in.

How does G-d expect us to keep waiting?

A story is told of the Maggid of Mezritch. Once, his son came running to him in tears. The Maggid comforted him and asked him why he was crying. The child began to explain that he had been playing a game of hide-and-seek with his friends.

He and all his friends were hiding. They remained in their hiding places for a long time, thinking that they had hid well, and that the person whose turn it was was unable to find them. But soon they got tired of waiting. They came out of their hiding places and discovered that they had been wrong. The one whose turn it was to search, was not even there. He had played a trick on them! After they went into their hiding places, he went home instead of searching for them. That is why the Maggid’s son was crying.

When the Maggid of Mezritch heard this story, he also began to cry. His son asked him why he was crying. The Maggid told him that G‑d has the same complaint.

What did the Maggid mean? It is written, “You are a G‑d Who hides.” G‑d says, “I hide Myself from you, but the purpose of My hiding is that you should come and search for Me. But instead of searching for Me, you go away and busy yourselves with other things.”

The Rebbe tearfully and emotionally commented on this story:

Indeed, it is true that the father must conceal himself from his son in order to awaken within him a yearning for his father… But what should the son do when the father places him in an incredible darkness? . . . And then He demands of us that we should constantly search . . . Sunday we must search . . . Monday we must search . . .

So, how can one register a complaint against a mortal of flesh and blood who is finite and limited—this is how he was created by G‑d; it is not his fault!—how can one criticize him for not constantly thinking about the redemption . . . it is not possible . . . G‑d Himself says, “I ask only commensurate to one’s capabilities,” but He has not given us the strength . . .

Therefore we must increase in light—and not just any light, but specifically the light of simchah (joyousness). Since simchah “breaks all boundaries and limitations,” it breaks through the person’s limitations, the limitations of this world, and the limitations imposed by this dreadful darkness . . .

This question of ‘how long can we wait’. And how long can G-d expect us to keep searching and waiting, is an existential question that is best to leave unanswered by us mortals. G-d alone can and will provide the answer.

As we enter the space of Shabbat, Tisha B’av gets pushed off. Tonight is ‘Tisha B’av’ i.e. the ninth of Av, but the fast is pushed off to the tenth of Av, starting Saturday night.

We wish it would be pushed off entirely. So that the fast would turn into a feast.

How can we celebrate the Shabbat as we should, when we are engrossed in this time period that focuses on the destruction?

On Shabbat we change our perspective. We are given the ‘glasses’ to see things from Hashem’s perspective.

Click here for more on the ‘vision’ of this Shabbat Chazon.

From Hashem’s perspective it was never about destruction.

It was always just about lovingly wanting to grant us a third Bet Hamikdash that will supersede and outshine anything we can imagine.

During the week, and when we see the world in our ‘standard’ earthly ‘glasses’, we see darkness and we feel the absence of the Bet Hamikdash. On Tisha B’av we don’t eat and drink or do other pleasurable things that would take our mind of the mourning. Jewish law instructs us to be fully present in our ‘homesickness’ and yearning and longing for the presence of G-d in his Temple. At least on this one day of the year we need to feel the loss acutely.

Yet, during the next twenty-four hours of Shabbat, we are instructed to see things from the Shabbat perspective.

This Shabbat is thus an intensely powerful one. For it penetrates the gloom and blazes a shaft of light to reframe the situation not as horrendous destruction, but rather as being part of the glorious rebuilding of something so grand that it took nineteen hundred years to ‘plan’ it.

Let us enter this Shabbat with our hopes up that before we can even blink our eyes, Mashiach will come and G-d’s true plan will be revealed.

And then, you and I and all of Am Yisrael will feast and party with abandon celebrating the final redemption.


Shabbat Shalom

& if Mashiach G-d forbid doesn’t come first, an easy fast.

If as we hope, Mashiach comes first, we will change that wish to a Chag Sameach greeting. Halevai - If only….




Comments on: destroy vs demolish
There are no comments.