For those of us who had the appetite to continue on with the Seder after the crumbs of the Afikomen were brushed away last Friday and Saturday night, one of the latter passages of the Haggadah – the third last passage, just prior to “Who Knows One” – ought to have taken on greater significance and meaning this year. “Adir Hu”, an eight-stanza acrostic with each stanza focusing on HaShem rebuilding His house, the holy Temple in Jerusalem, might well have rung a bell with so many of us, with the fire of Notre Dame in Paris still so very fresh in our minds. If there is any one non-Catholic group that can identify with what took place in France last week, in all likelihood, it is we Jews. Our collective memory is still haunted by the flames bringing down the Beit HaMikdash or Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, when the land of Israel was under Roman rule. Stark differences however, remain with what took place with our Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Despite its splendor and grandeur, aside from it being in a league of its own, there are any number of basilicas and cathedrals throughout Europe, with architecture to behold and histories to treasure, even if those architectures and histories fail to rival the architecture and history of Notre Dame. As one who once visited Israel for less than a day and who was adamant that a visit to the Kotel in Jerusalem was non-negotiable, otherwise I would refuse to head back to the airport, I cannot help but wonder whether or not Catholics and non-Catholics alike, be it in Europe or elsewhere, shouldn’t be finding solace in the fact, that unlike Jews, they are in no way bereft of their one and only spiritual edifice.
To be sure, many Catholics and non-Catholics will be turning to their Father in heaven, as they should, to ask for divine guidance and assistance in rebuilding Notre Dame. To be sure, the Catholic community will be able to rely upon the largesse of the wealthy as they step in, as well as the generosity of the common folk, as they pitch in. In no way, would I be with surprised, if more monies than needed, are amassed for the rebuilding of Notre Dame. In no way, would I be shocked, if many of us live to see a rebuilt Notre Dame of a resplendence, that few, if any, could ever have envisioned or imagined. And therein lies the difference between the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and Notre Dame, l’havdil in Paris. Whereas it is HaShem, who will ultimately rebuild the Beit HaMikdash with the arrival of Moshiach, it is mere mortals who will rebuild the cathedral in Paris. Stated differently, when it comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, we Jews pray; when it comes to Notre Dame in Paris, Catholics and others pay.
As a concerned outsider who reaches out to the world-wide Catholic community in general, along with the Catholic community in France in particular, I cannot help but turn to the Catholic community in my capacity as rabbi. I wish you Godspeed in dealing with your recent calamity. Remember however, that a fire has been raging over the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches throughout Europe these last few decades and it is Christianity that has been going up in smoke.
However formidable a task lies ahead with the rebuilding of Notre Dame, there is a far more daunting a task that confronts Christianity. As a consequence of the clutches of secularism spiriting away those who were born to the faithful and baptized in their respective churches as infants, Notre Dame and other places of worship, run the risk of remaining little more than icons. By all means ought Notre Dame be rebuilt to its former glory. At the same time, however Christians must seek to rebuild their following.
We Jews have long since come to terms that our Beit HaMikdash lies in in ruins. For centuries, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our daily prays; for centuries the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our annual Seder. The Beit HaMikdash remains an integral part of our religion just as HaShem remains an integral part of its rebuilding. In the meantime, we have focused on keeping Judaism strong and vibrant. My wish for my Catholic brethren is that the building materials used to reconstruct Notre Dame be infused with Christian holiness of the highest and purest order.