I hate Zoom.

As much as I’ve come to depend on this bit of technology during the pandemic, I dread every upcoming meeting for how impersonal and sterile it will undoubtedly feel. The content of the conversation may well be the same, but the personal connection that comes from sharing the same physical space as another person is sorely lacking.

Zoom just isn’t the real thing. And like so many, I crave the real thing.

That yearning gives us an insight into the meaning of Tisha B’Av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The mourning period can be hard to relate to. One of the most difficult aspects is in trying to grasp what exactly we are lacking. We do our best to connect to and ruminate over the sorrows and tragedies of the past, reminding ourselves that somehow were it not for the destruction of the Temple, these horrors would never have come to pass. 

But these matters, however tragic, are ultimately secondary. They are the byproduct, the result of the loss of the Temple. What of the Temple itself and of its absence? Opportunities for spirituality and connecting to God abound, even in the post-Temple world in which we find ourselves. What exactly we are lacking?

The Torah states, “And you shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in your midst” (Exodus 25:8). The commandment to construct a Temple goes beyond having an edifice in which a host of other commandments can be kept. The Temple is the crucial deciding factor in whether or not God will actually dwell in our midst. With or without a physical Sanctuary, God is in the driver’s seat. The question is whether or not we’re in the car with Him. Do we share the same space, or is our relationship long-distance?

It’s hard to fully put into words what is missing when we “get together” from afar rather than actually sitting across from each other. But it is a distinction we feel every time we are forced to use Zoom as the medium that connects us. Even when no physical contact exists, simply being in the same room as another person heightens the experience with greater warmth, connection, and closeness.

This is the difference between the presence and the absence of the Temple. Can we continue to connect to God? Absolutely. We have the power of prayer to serve as our voice to God, and the power of Torah that allows us to listen to His. Indeed, there are infinite points of contact that allow us to craft a relationship with God.

And yet, it’s all on Zoom. He does not dwell among us – He is not present in the room – the way that the Temple would allow Him to be. What we mourn on Tisha B’Av and the days leading up to it is not a complete obliteration of a relationship with God; we bemoan the chasm that has been inserted between us. Yes, we still connect, but remotely. And, as we know all too well, connecting remotely just isn’t the same. 

When you next feel that twinge of annoyance at the sight of a class, call, or meeting being held over Zoom, try to lean into that feeling just a bit. The uneasiness and frustration over the continued inability to sit at the same table, to share the same space, and to fully connect, is precisely what we’ve been missing for the past 2,000 years.