Today, on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, we mark the destruction of the Temples. The destruction of the First Temple, as documented in the book of Lamentations and the Prophet Jeremiah, results from man’s sins against God. Not surprisingly, the books of the prophets are rife with idol worship, and man not completely buying into the monotheistic package. After a short exile of 70 years, the Second Temple is inaugurated. The Second Temple stands for centuries before its destruction, according to the sages due to man’s sinning against other men. (In an interesting lecture I heard this weekend, it apparently takes much more than 70 years to repair and absolve those types of sins. – Chaim Fachler)
Why is it so hard for us to be nice to each other, not only as individuals but also as a society? Is this just human nature?
If we go way back, before modern civilization, to the time of hunter-gatherer societies, the world-view was based on equality and trust between all creatures. People gather and hunt, working together for the common good, and are themselves subject to the dangers of the natural world. This philosophy played out in people’s religious beliefs – the animal kingdom dominated the religious world and anthropomorphic images were rare.
A change occurs in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A site of Gobekli Tepe in modern day Turkey. There, 12,000 years ago, a giant cultic site consisting of concentric stone circles with massive (up to 6 m. – 20 ft.) stone T-shaped pillars, shows a shift. Not just a shift to domestication of plants and animals in the material culture, but a shift in knowledge and planning: the centers of the circles form equilateral triangles showing a knowledge of geometry; the scale and execution of the project indicates that there was some sort of central planning and coordination. Tel Aviv University archaeology professor Avi Gopher commented, “This is where it starts: I don’t know if it’s shamans or political leaders, but this is a society that has an architect and somebody who initiates a project like this and has the power to make it happen.” Society is becoming stratified, and with that stratification comes inequality.
In the religious sphere, the monoliths at Gobekli Tepe are anthropomorphic. All the pillars are stylized human figures with some even sporting hands, belts, and loincloths. This is a clear departure from elevating the animal world as the purveyor of power and represents a shift to human models of divinity. Even today, we speak of God in human terms.
Once we have a stratified society, we have many good things – improved quality of life, health, and the possibility for wide ranging social programs – but we have also kicked the door open to inequality and injustice. As we see so often in the news, it takes a lot to maintain modern society and equality at the same time – and we often fail.
At the conclusion of the reading of the book of Lamentations, we repeat aloud the penultimate verse of the book. “Return us, God, to you and we will return; renew our days as of old.” Maybe now, in post-Second Temple times, we need to remember our hunter-gatherer days, and return to some of the equality, inter-dependency, and mutual respect we practiced then, even in our post-Gobekli Tepe, stratified modern world.
May those who are fasting have a meaningful fast.
And for all of us – be kind, show respect, be equitable, love justice.