Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

A Torah GPS for the Three Weeks



We are just a few days from the start of the Three Weeks. Both baalei mussar and Chassidim tell us that this a time for introspection and change. It is a time to act, not just react. Let us therefore begin the process of taking advantage of the days ahead by elevating them and ourselves.

As we all know, it was during Tammuz and Av that we lost both Botei Mikdosh. The Gemara (Yoma 9b) differentiates the two by bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro. The first was destroyed because of the major transgressions between ourselves and Hashem of promiscuity, murder and idolatry. The second was destroyed because of baseless hatred between brothers. On the one hand, these seem incongruous when compared. The three sins require us to give up our lives rather than transgress any one of them. The prohibition of hatred (Vayikra 19:17) is a malfeasance without a specific action and doesn’t even carry the punishment of malkos (lashes). Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the Gemara there concludes that the offense that triggered the second destruction was worse, because after the first, the Bais Hamikdosh was rebuilt after only seventy years. Yet, after the second destruction, over two thousand years now, we are still waiting anxiously for the third Bais Hamikdosh to enter our lives.

How do we therefore view and deal with the two tragedies? Which one should we concentrate on more and which one should occupy our thoughts and actions? One approach to this conundrum is to examine the sources of each calamity. The first Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. The second was destroyed by Edom, the heir to Eisov. Bavel was a fierce enemy and wreaked havoc upon Klal Yisroel. It deprived us of the edifice where open miracles happened every single day. If a rebbi wished to instill emunah in his talmidim, a field trip to the Bais Hamikdosh was an instant object lesson. Prophesy was an open event and every Jew could consult the local novi upon matters large and small. The loss of the Bais Hamikdosh was a heartbreaking one for every member of the nation.

However, the loss of the second Bais Hamikdosh was an internal ailment for Knesses Yisroel. The Torah (Devorim 2:1-5) warns us not to wage war against Eisov, for they have been given the gift of Har Se’ir as an inheritance. The Baal Haturim points out the crowns on the letter samach in the posuk that warn us to stop circling around that mountain. He explains that the tagim on the letter, which adds up to sixty, represent the age of Yitzchok Avinu when Eisov was born. It was Eisov who excelled at honoring his father and in that merit was able to destroy the Bais Hamikdosh, which measured sixty amos. Actually, the Medrash (Devorim Rabbah 1:15) makes this connection even more dramatically: “When Klal Yisroel approached Eisov’s land for war, Hashem showed Moshe the place where the avos are buried. ‘Tell Klal Yisroel,’ Hashem commanded, ‘that you will not be able to conquer him because [Eisov] is still collecting the reward for honoring those interred in this place.”

Other Medrashim are dramatic as well in enumerating the suffering we have experienced over the centuries because of Eisov’s dedication to this one mitzvah. The Yalkut Shimoni (116) attributes Eisov’s power to the three tears he shed before his father. The Tanchuma (Kedoshim 15) states specifically that all of the savagery that we endured for millennia came upon us because Eisov bested us in the mitzvah of kibbud av. Shockingly, whereas the Babylonians were not given permission to destroy the foundations of the first Bais Hamikdosh, the Edomite Romans did so because of this trait of their ancestor.

What exactly are we to derive from this historical pattern?

Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyohu) explains that since everything Hashem does is middah keneged middah, Hashem sent us into each exile to correct our sins. Since we worshipped idols during the second Bais Hamikdosh, Hashem sent us to Babylonia, the seat of idolatry (Bereishis 11:4; Sanhedrin 102b). Eisov, on the other hand, is the embodiment of hatred (Rabbeinu Bachya, Devorim 30:7; Sifri, Bamidbar 69), so we go to golus Edom to repent for our baseless hatred for our brethren. In each place, when we overcome the evil culture of the enemy, we ourselves are elevated and will triumph.

We can now begin to understand why although the three sins of the generation of the first Bais Hamikdosh were worse, they emanated from outside the nation and so were not generic to our essence. However, the hatred that mirrored that of Eisov for us came from our brother, son of two noble parents, and was therefore much more destructive in the long run. The three sins disappeared after 70 years, but the hatred of our brethren remains with us, so we have not yet merited the final and perfect Bais Hamikdosh.

Now, to be sure, we must remember that Eisov’s kibbud av was suffused with hypocrisy and malevolence. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 75:9) reveals Eisov’s true intentions for his father and brother. His secret plan was: “Kayin murdered his brother and nothing happened to him. Eventually, he had children who inherited the world. I, however, will first kill my father and then Yaakov my brother and inherit the world all by myself.” Also, the Yerushalmi (Nedorim 3:8) promises us that although Eisov’s mitzvah will grant him entry into paradise, Hashem Himself will eventually remove him from there. That, however, will have to wait for the final rectification of everything in the world with Moshiach. In the meantime, we have to deal more with our internecine enmities than with the cardinal sins, especially because of the source of that hatred from our own brother.

Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok, offers us an even deeper approach (Kuntrus Menachem Tzion, Maamar II) to our avodah for the next few weeks. He quotes from a certain anonymous kedosh elyon – a lofty, holy tzaddik – who analyzed the war with Midyan in an extraordinary way. The Torah (Bamidbar 31) tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu sent 12,000 men to “wreak Hashem’s vengeance upon Midyan.” This gadol pointed out that the Torah uses the phrase “go to war” after it seemed that the war itself was over. He cited the fact that the Torah links the triumph over Midyan to the death of Moshe Rabbeinu. This, he explained, follows the teaching of Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh Hachaim 1:4; Eicha Rabbah 1:41) that Nevuchadnetzar and Titus did not really destroy the Bais Hamikdosh. They, in fact, couldn’t do so. Had the Bais Hamikdosh not already been depleted of its kedusha, they would not have had the power to touch the holy building. Similarly, in the war with Midyan, it was the presence of Moshe Rabbeinu that simply removed any breath of life from the Midyanites by his very presence. This had to happen while Moshe was still alive.

Elazar the kohein spoke to the soldiers about going to war even after the war seemed to be over. What he meant by this, said the kedosh elyon, was that while Moshe Rabbeinu was alive, they didn’t have to do a thing. It was the very existence of Moshe that waged war for them, depriving each enemy of his life force. But now that Moshe was about to pass away, since his last mission of victory over Midyan was done, they would now have to wage the battles themselves for the first time.

Rav Yonasan now applies the teaching of this holy Jew. “Moshe Rabbeinu,” he writes poetically, “was the daas hapenimis – the inner soul – of the entire universe. The Torah is Moshe and Moshe is the Torah. He fills and completes all of creation; therefore, everything falls before him. That is why the posuk repeatedly uses the word challolim to describe his victims. They need not be destroyed or killed. They simply disappear because they no longer merit existence in the face of Moshe Rabbeinu’s spirit. Thus, those soldiers who are fighting on the side of Moshe are actually combating corpses – in the modern vernacular, perhaps, just zombies.

“When,” Rav Yonasan continues, “Klal Yisroel lost the right to enter Eretz Yisroel, they were told that (Bamidbar 14:29-33) their corpses would not enter. This was directed at the generation who had the capacity to fill the entire world with their kedusha and to bring about the kind of triumph that typified that of Moshe Rabbeinu. When they lost the ability to enter the Land, they became pigreichem (corpses), because they had lost the true power of life that they had been granted.”

Rav Yonasan ends with soothing but alarming words. “We are a generation that has seen tremendous strides in Torah and mitzvos,” he writes.
We can and must use these gifts to change the world, like those who came before us did. We, too, can fill the world with such kedusha that our enemies will fall before us just because of who we are, not anything we need to do.

This is our mandate for the next few weeks. We must strengthen our Torah learning, work on our middos, and love every Jew so that Eisov’s hatred is nowhere in sight in our brotherly love. In this way, we can turn the Three Weeks of aveilus into Three Weeks of victory and triumph. Let us start now.




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