I came to a fascinating realization recently: The people who are paid the highest salaries in our society are those who distract us. Think about it: Who gets paid mega bucks and salaries in the millions? Celebrities, movie stars, and athletes. Our society imbibes television, movies, and sports, because they offer us a welcomed distraction from our stressful, fast-paced lives.
We all need some respite from the daily grind. The problem in our society is when distractions begin to supplant reality.
The Torah and halachah demand that we train ourselves to maintain our focus on what we are engaged in. When one davens, it is an ongoing struggle to maintain concentration, at least of the fact that he is standing before, and davening to, Hashem. Whenever one is engaged in performing a mitzvah, he has to try to make that his complete focus. Halachah forbids multi-tasking when davening, reciting a brachah, or performing a mitzvah.
But in a world that has almost no attention span or patience, investing and maintaining focus is very difficult.
When the Beis HaMikdash stood, things were very different.
A person would think twice before he spoke about someone else, knowing that one statement of lashon ha’ra can cause him to contract tzaraas and possibly end up in solitude, outside the city for some time. One funny or sarcastic comment is surely not worth that price. On Shabbos, a person would be far more mindful of inadvertently desecrating the holy day, knowing that such a mistake can cost him a tremendous amount of money. He would have to purchase a sheep or a goat as a korban chatas, which he would then have to bring to the Beis HaMikdash and watch its blood being sprinkled upon the altar by the kohen. All that for forgetting that it was Shabbos or that the act he did was prohibited. “Spacing out” had a far greater price tag.
The pilgrimage to Yerushalayim before each of the three major holidays also left an indelible impression. Entire cities would empty out, as the entire population headed for Yerushalayim. The only ones left behind were the elderly and infirm who were unable to undertake the journey. The display of faith to leave everything behind, unguarded, was itself incredibly inspiring. Meeting friends and Jews from all walks of life every holiday was also a memorable experience.
A visit to the Beis HaMikdash any weekday was memorable and uplifting. One would see the alacrity and precision with which the kohanim performed the service. He would hear the beautiful, melodious songs of the L’viim, and he would witness how careful everyone was to not come into contact with anything that could render him impure. It was truly a different life.
The pasuk states, “The awesomeness of G-d was from Your sanctuary.” One could attain a certain measure of yir’as Shamayim whenever he visited the Beis HaMikdash. (When the nation began to lack that reverential awe when they visited the Beis HaMikdash, that was when Hashem decided that it was time to destroy it.)
The lack of a Beis HaMikdash robs us of all these experiences. Living with a Beis HaMikdash meant living a life of focus and attention. Our society is almost the polar opposite. It’s a world of fragmentation and distraction.
Part of the challenge of exile is for us to try to live with that sense of focus and awareness, even without the Beis HaMikdash. It is with hope and anticipation that our efforts will help usher in the time when we can experience that greatness again, at the time when we will enjoy the ultimate consolation.