Kinah 32: It's All In The Details
My fingers are humbled and my foundations are crumbled –
The Holy Temple and its courtyards are dragged
on the day of wrath –
Woe, what has befallen us!
The faces of princes and princesses are blackened
like the bottoms of pots –
This Kinah describes numerous details of the Temple and its vessels, details to which we did not pay attention, details that did not matter to us. We forgot that each detail in the Temple was laden with meaning and deep secrets. No, the details did not matter to us, and eventually, we not only forgot the details, we forgot the Temple.
It is not that we are unconcerned with details; The Talmud teaches: R. Yochanan said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law.
Were they then to have judged in accordance with untrained arbitrators?
But say thus: because they based their judgments [strictly] upon Biblical law, and
did not go beyond the requirements of the law. (Bava Metzia 30b) They were so focused on the exact details of the law that they forgot to consider the ideas and concepts within each detail of every law.
We took something holy, Halacha, and made it a Hell. No wonder Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” (Paradise Lost)
I recall listening in to a conversation my father zt”l was having with a non-observant Jew, who was insistent on describing Judaism as a “Kitchen Religion,” “You guys spend so much time on insignificant details that you have no time for life!”
“Surely,” said my father, “you, a surgeon, are concerned with minute details.”
“Of course,” he responded, “but those details are more important than how hot some milk was when it fell into a meat pot, and how much milk was there in proportion to the meat in the pot!”
“How do you know?” asked my father.
“Because my details are about life and death!”
“So are mine,” my father gently responded, “I have found that I care about the details whenever something matters to me.”
“So do I,” argued the surgeon.
“So your problem is not the details; it is that you do not care about these laws.”
One of the most horrendous images of Hell is Jean Paul Sartre’s “Huis Clos,” where the characters face each other and their pasts eternally. The continuos repetition and their continual closeness is the greatest torture that could possibly be inflicted on them. Details that were insignificant the first ten thousand times they reviewed their pasts, eventually became huge mountains, especially when pointed out by the people they faced for all eternity. Details that did not matter to them, mattered to others, and the small things became part of their torture.
Details do matter to us in a beautiful way, as beautiful, if not more so, than the details of the Temple described in this Kinah. I offer an example from Yerushat Pelatah:
In the face of a government decree requiring Jewish-owned shops to be opened on Shabbat, Rabbi Pinchas Tzimetboim of Grossvarden was asked if it was permissible for shops to remain open, since the penalty for not doing so was the total shuttering of the stores by the government.
Note: The questioners were prepared to lose everything if the Rabbi ruled that they could not keep their shops open! Such are the magnificent details as beautiful as the decorations of the Temple!
After exploring the possibilities of keeping the shops open by having a non-Jew handle all transactions, Rabbi Tzimetboim writes,
“And even if one can find permission to open the shops on Shabbat during this time of persecution by having a non-Jew handle all buying and selling, it is necessary to make an important Takanah that each person so doing give his solemn word – Tekiat Kaf – staking his share in the World To Come, in the presence of a Rav or Bet Din, that he will not personally sell on the Shabbat and that he will renounce any profit from these Shabbat transactions.
The people of Grossvarden transformed their hell into heaven by caring about such details.
We too possess such power and beauty. We can, when we care to look, discover the beauty of the Temple in the details of our lives.
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