The Emek Tzurim Sifting Project was established just over ten years ago to give tourists the chance to sift through earth which Arabs dumped (having broken their agreement with the Israel Antiquities Authority) from the Temple Mount in 1999. Today, families and tour groups pass through and sift the dirt, helping the archaeologists make the best of a sad situation. Every so often, something interesting turns up. Just today, Erev Tisha B’Av, a family of tourists found a small stone cube at the bottom of their sifter after all the dirt had washed away.
The small stone cube was used by the Roman soldiers who were stationed on the Temple Mount after the destruction of the temple, exactly 1943 years and one day ago. These soldiers played games of chance and gambled against each other to pass their time as they stood watch over the Temple ruins to make sure the Jews could not return.
The Rabbis of the Talmud disqualified someone who habitually played games of chance such as dice from bearing testimony, as his choice of pass-time demonstrated his unreliable character.
The Romans were the spiritual descendants of Yaacov’s twin brother Eisav. What different between the two led to such enmity? Israel’s outlook was that of Divine Providence – God is interested and involved in human affairs and is always acting to change the histories of people and nations. Spirituality and physicality are intimately and inseparably connected. Indeed, physicality is the means through which we are to attain spirituality. The outgrowth of this Jewish philosophy is kindness and respect for life, recognizing the image of God inside each individual. The Jewish outlook leads us to relate to the aspect of the Divine in each person as if we were relating to God himself.
Eisav’s outlook was entirely the opposite. He saw the spiritual (if it exists at all) as totally separate from the physical, measurable world. The gap between the two is so wide that spirituality means practically nothing. What then is left for man to pursue? Eisav’s life was dedicated to the fulfillment of his physical desires and the pursuit of power. This is how Eisav permitted himself to murder and rape with abandon. Eisav’s descendent Amalek were the ultimate expression of this idea, attacking the Jewish people even as they emerged from the split sea. Eisav’s Roman descendants practiced this materialistic outlook, and it led them to destroy the temple.
These two outlooks have been locked in mutual struggle for thousands of years, and all of it is revealed in a tiny stone cube sifted from the dirt of the Temple Mount. Only in Jerusalem.