Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 18 July 2015 / 2 Av 5775

Tisha B'Av

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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Megillat Eicha laments the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the tragedies that followed. In discussing the time period during which Megillat Eicha was written, Chazal tell us that Rabbi Yehuda says: It (Eicha) was said in the days of Yehoyakim (decades before the actual destruction). Rabbi Nechemia retorted: Should one cry over the dead before their death? Rather it was said after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. (Eicha Rabbah 1:1) In this Midrash Rabbi Yehuda is claiming that Eicha was written before the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, while Rabbi Nechemia disagrees. Rabbi Nechemia challenges Rabbi Yehudah, for indeed the book details the destruction in the past tense. With Rabbi Nechemia's question seeming so obvious, how can we understand Rabbi Yehudah's opinion?

The Gemara explains that following Nevuzaradan’s attack on Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash a Heavenly voice emerged and declared the following:

It is a slain nation that you slew; it is a burned sanctuary that you burned; it is ground flour that you ground; as it is stated “take millstones and grind flour” … it does not say wheat; it says flour. (Sanhedrin 96b & Eichah Rabbati 1:43)

We need a brief background in Jewish thought to understand the source above. All that happens in the physical world has a source in the spiritual world. Furthermore, what happens in the spiritual world is an outcome of our physical actions and moral decisions. Even when other nations attack us, they are only messengers as a result of a deficiency in our service of Gd.

As the following examples demonstrate, the Jewish approach has always been to attribute spiritual reasons behind our physical struggles with our enemies. The Midrash says that the nation of Amalek, which represents heresy, was able to attack the Jewish People when they displayed a lack of trust in G-d. (Shemot Rabbah 26:2) It was due neither to Amalek's "strength," nor to Yisrael's "weakness," but rather it was all dependent on the Jewish nation's spiritual state. Furthermore, the reason that is given for why Haman was able to pass a decree against the Jewish People was not due to political mistakes on the part of the Jewish People. Rather the Gemara says that it was because they bowed down to Nevuchadnezar’s idols and partook of Achashverosh’s feast. (Megillah 12a) Similarly, the Bach (Hilchot Chanuka) says that the reason why the Greeks were able to defile the Beit Hamikdash was because the Jews were being lax in the services in the Beit Hamikdash.

The source behind the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was no different. The Gemara teaches that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins — adultery, idol worship, and murder — while the reason for the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash was baseless hatred. (Yoma 9b) There are many more examples of this idea, but the main point is that not once do Chazal attribute a physical defeat to the lack of a mighty army, bad strategy, or politics. This is because as Jews we fully believe that any war in the physical world is only a reflection of a spiritual war above.

We can now better understand the Gemara with which we started. The Nefesh Hachaim (1:4) explains that, in essence, it wasn’t Titus or Nevuchadnetzar who destroyed the Beit Hamikdash. Rather it was our sins that destroyed the spiritual Beit Hamikdash. Titus and Nevuchadnetzar only destroyed a building that was devoid of G-d’s presence that had left due to our sins. This is what the Gemara means when it says, “you grounded flour that was already ground”. The Gemara is explaining this very idea. Nevuzaradan destroyed something that was already destroyed in the higher worlds.

This should be our approach with our modern-day enemies as well. While they will all be held accountable for choosing to be the messengers to carry out the iniquitous acts, we too will be held accountable for our sins that were the spiritual root for the resulting destruction. When the Jewish nation experiences a tragedy, instead of wondering how or why the other could have wronged us so grievously, we should be wondering what actions we performed to deserve such a harsh decree against us.

It follows from the above that the main mourning we experience on Tisha b'Av is not just over the physical destruction, but over the spiritual destruction that came about through our actions. We can now begin to answer the question we started with. Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita, suggests that according to Rabbi Yehuda's view, this is precisely why Eicha was written before the actual destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. It was written when the spiritual destruction took place, which preceded the physical destruction. In this sense Megillat Eicha was a physical description of the spiritual destruction that had already taken place.

How does this relate to our service on Tisha b’Av? The Gemara says, in every generation that the Beit Hamikdash is not rebuilt it is as if in that generation that it was destroyed. (Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1) The reason for this is that if we would do sincere teshuva for the sins that caused the Beit Hamikdash to be destroyed, then we would merit seeing it rebuilt. The fact that it is not rebuilt is therefore a sign that we are currently continuing in the wrong ways of our ancestors — and had we had a “living” Beit Hamikdash, it would have been destroyed in our very own days. Tisha b'Av is a day in which we mourn our present sins that are hindering the Beit Hamikdash's rebuilding. May we all merit to use the mourning as a stepping stone to do sincere teshuva, thereby helping to bring about the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in our days.

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