By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I don’t fully understand what you wrote last week that “any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt it is if they destroyed it.”
I learned that the reason the Temple was destroyed was because the Jews transgressed the three cardinal sins. I haven’t experienced that the Jews of our generation are guilty of those cardinal sins; how does the lack of the rebuilding of the Temple make us liable for those sins?
Furthermore, is there some direct correlation between those sins and the Temple for them to be the reason for its destruction?
— Morris B.
On the day of Tisha B’Av (which we observe this year beginning Monday night, July 15, and ending the following night), we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the same Hebrew date of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av.
The Talmud cites the reason given by the prophets of why each Temple was destroyed. As you mentioned, the reason for the destruction of the Temple was the transgression of the three cardinal sins: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and murder. This reason is cited only for the destruction of the First Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed for another motivation entirely. The Talmud is, in fact, initially perplexed why the Second Temple was destroyed, since the population was strongly observant, performed acts of kindness and studied Torah. The final analysis, as I mentioned last week, was because the members of that generation harbored an inner hatred for each other — they lacked true love for their fellow Jews.
Our generation is not liable for the three cardinal sins. We are not living in the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple; rather we are denizens of the exile of the Second Temple. When the sages told us that if the Temple wasn’t rebuilt in our generation, it’s as if we destroyed it, we need to look at what caused the destruction and subsequent exile that we are living in today, that of the Second Temple. This is telling us we must still harbor a sufficient lack of love, or even hatred, of our fellow Jews to have caused the destruction of the Temple if it would have stood in our generation. Morris, I think you would not find to be too farfetched to entertain this thought. Looking at many interactions between fellow Jews, sadly, do not always reflect the love we hope and expect to see among members of the same family.
The precise definition in the Talmud for the Jews’ downfall at the time of the destruction was “sinat chinam,” or “hatred for no good reason.” This punctuated a deep level of disconnect; of every man for himself, and of looking at each other as foreigners rather than family. With that attitude of division and detachment, it did not take much for fights and hatred to flare up. How true that rings today!
The Temple was the dwelling place among the Jewish people of the Shechinah, or Divine Presence of the Almighty, in this world. It was His “royal palace,” the site where Jews and gentiles alike could come and feel the Kingdom of God. The sages tell us “there is no king without a nation.” If the nation is not united, they are not really a nation but a bunch of individuals; there’s no honor in reigning over a bunch of disconnected individuals. Put another way, God is not only our King, but our Father. A father enjoys visiting his children when they’re all together in a loving way. If, when he comes to be with them, they are all fighting and not showing any love, he will cut his visit short, not wanting to dwell in that situation.
When the Jewish hearts disconnected from each other, God disconnected from the Jewish people. He no longer had a purpose or desire to dwell among them. The Talmud teaches that “Shalom,” “peace,” is one of the names of God. When there is Shalom among Jews, God dwells among them. When there is enmity between them, He distances himself from them.
If we can use this period to focus upon the positive traits of our fellow Jews (including, believe it or not, our spouses, children and other family members) and can kindle in our hearts a love for our fellow Jews, we may be well along the path to rebuilding that Temple and welcoming the Shechinah back into our midst.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.