Why was the Temple destroyed?

By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I don’t fully understand what I heard that the early Sages say, 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 those sins to be the reason for its destruction?

Morris B.

Dear Morris,

On the day of Tisha B’Av (which we observe this year beginning Wednesday night, July 26, and Thursday, July 27), we mourn the destruction of both the first and second Temples, both which were destroyed on the same Hebrew date of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av.

The Talmud cites the reasons, given by the prophets, that each of the two Temples was destroyed. As you mentioned, the reason given 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 reason 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 were lacking true love for their fellow Jews.

I concur with you that the statement you quoted would not make our generation 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 means that we must still harbor enough lack of love, or even hatred, of our fellow Jews to have caused the destruction of the Temple if it had stood in our generation! This thought, Morris, I think you would not find to be too farfetched to entertain, looking at many interactions between fellow Jews which, unfortunately, do not always reflect the love we hope and expect to see among members of the same family. Sadly, this is most pronounced in the current terrible rift in Israeli society between the right and left, to a frightening, perhaps unprecedented extreme, at least in recent Jewish history. (However, it wasn’t so long ago that a Jewishly occupied ship, the Altalena, was sunk by a Jewish army during the War of Independence, so what’s happening is not entirely new.)

The precise definition in the Talmud for the Jews’ downfall at the time of the destruction was “sinat chinam,” or “baseless hatred.” 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 connection between the Temple and the connection between Jews is very precise. The Temple was the dwelling place of the Shechinah, or Divine Presence of the Almighty in this world, among the Jewish people. It was His “royal palace,” the site where Jew and Gentile alike could come and feel the Kingdom of G-d. The sages tell us that “there is no king without a nation.” If the nation is not united, they are not really a nation but a bunch of disconnected individuals; there’s no honor in reigning over a bunch of disjointed individuals.

Put another way, G-d 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 and not want to spend much time dwelling in that situation.

When the Jewish hearts disconnected from each other, G-d disconnected from the Jewish people. He no longer had a purpose or a desire to dwell among them. The Talmud teaches that “Shalom” is one of the names of G-d. When there is shalom among Jews, G-d dwells among them. When there is enmity between them, we push Him out.

If we can use this period to focus upon the positive traits of our fellow Jews (including 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 Fried is dean of DATA–Dallas Area Torah Association.

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