Our Bodies are our Temples: Reflections on Mental Health and the Destruction of the Temples
by Lisa B. Ziv
Tisha B’Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE. Many tragedies for the Jewish people have fallen on Tisha B’Av.
Every year, I do the traditional things to observe the day. I fast, read kinnot (dirges, poems of mourning) in synagogue, and yearn for the Temple to be rebuilt. I go through the rituals. But until now, I haven’t personally connected with Tisha B’Av. This year my heart aches as a mother helping her child struggling with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. My perspective on so many things is filtered through my family’s mental health challenges.
The day I learned that my child was “cutting” is one that forever changed my perspective on the idea that our bodies are our temples. The school principal called me saying she found a letter where my daughter wrote, “I have already hurt myself many times.” Although she was in counseling for depression and anxiety, neither my husband, her counselors, her teachers or I had any idea that she was in such deep pain. The letter was a cry for help that put us on a path to getting our daughter a higher level of mental health treatment. The journey to help her get to a better place is best left for another time. Thank G-d, she is doing better, but the scars from the razor blade are there to mark when her bodily temple was attacked.
Thinking about the body as a human form of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Sanctuary, is both inspiring and imposing for me. As Mendy Hecht wrote on www.AskMoses.com:
With the destruction, G-d temporarily removed the Temple from its geographic location and placed it within us. Instead of traveling to Jerusalem, G-d wanted us to find Him in our inner Jerusalem. Now, our bodies are our Temples, our souls are our windows, our minds are our kohanim and our animal instincts are our sacrifices. We cannot offer physical sacrifices three times a day, but we can pray three times a day. We cannot attend Temple services three times a day, but we can tap into our souls three times a day. We cannot atone for our shortcomings by sacrificing animals, but we can sacrifice our inner animals—our hormones, our lusts, our desires, our beastly compulsions. We cannot find G-d in Jerusalem; we must find Him in us.
Just as we mourn for the destruction of the Temples, we hurt for our loved ones who are suffering. Some try temporarily to ease their pain through self-harm by cutting, abusing pills, drugs or alcohol, binging, purging, overeating or other unhealthy behaviors. This Tisha B’Av, as we pray for the Temple to be rebuilt, let us pray for our family and community members with mental health challenges.
Rabbi Yechezkel Freundlich spoke during Canadian Mental Health Week 2020 about the need to bring awareness and destigmatize mental health. He discussed the commandment to maintain the dignity and honor of those who need help. Rabbi Freundlich shared a commentary to the Torah equating helping those with mental health issues to rebuilding the Temple, saying:
If the Jew can fulfill the mitzvah of maintaining the dignity and honor given to those that need in a way that they are able to feel good about themselves, it is as if, Rashi says, you constructed the Beit HaMikdash, you build the Temple itself, and went there and brought all the offerings that are necessary. That is our task.
On Tisha B’Av, I will join with Jews around the world to lament the destruction of the Temples and pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem speedily in our lifetime. My prayer, for my daughter and all those struggling with mental health challenges, is that their personal temples be repaired and rebuilt in good health and peace.
Through her lived experiences, Lisa Ziv developed a passion for supporting parents as they navigate their children’s mental health challenges. Her private organization helps identify resources and build supportive communities, by connecting families and increasing awareness in schools and the Jewish community. Her reflections on Jewish holidays, traditions, and texts inspire families that are coping with uncertain times. Lisa lives in Baltimore, MD, with her husband and three amazing teenagers. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.lisaziv.com