An Accounting for the People of Israel
Between the rest of the special dates for the people of Israel the memorial day for the destruction of the house – the house being the Temple, stands out. We are used to the combination of the “house” and the “Temple”, as stating the place which constitutes a holy focus symbolizing the special affinity of the people of Israel to their God – an affinity of allegiance; and it is appropriate to pay heed to the fact that such an epithet did not exist in other nations of the world during those times. In all nations you find temples as centres for religious ritual, which are larger and more magnificent several times over than the Temple in Jerusalem; however we have not found that those nations call their centre for religious ritual by the intimate name of “the house”.
Indeed in Israel too the place was called thus from the outset in the common language: as to construction of the house it was said: “And make me a temple and I shall reside within” (Exodus 25:8). The building was called during all the stages of its creation and operation “the house” only (“And the Lord God shall fill the house”) and similarly in all its descriptions thereafter.
The epithet “house” for the Temple appears for the first time in the contemplations of David about the need to build a permanent place for the Temple. And as is known this was prohibited from him and the task was imposed on his son Solomon (“He shall build the house in my name” Samuel 2: 7:13) and from the time of Solomon and onwards we hear about the house of the Temple or in brief “the house”; “And the house shall be built for the Lord (Kings 1:6). This epithet denotes as one: the house for the dwelling of the Lord and in His honour, and the house in which the affinity is symbolized between the Creator and the chosen people, who took upon itself the designation in Sinai to live in the world as “a kingdom of priests and Jews” for the purpose of repairing the world and the genius of man.
The destruction of the first and second “houses”, caused the generations who experienced the terrors of the destruction deep pain and grave crisis. The question of the cry at the start of the Book of Lamentations expresses the severity of the crisis.
“How deserted lies the city once so full of people! How like a widow is she…”
Lamentations – is directed not at the physical results of the destruction but rather at the internal undermining of the everlasting faith of the affinity between the Creator and the nation of His creation. And therefore the nature of the shock of the destruction shall be understood in this verse “how like a widow she is”. That is to say: the sons of the people of the allegiance are standing humiliated and hurting facing the ruins of “the house” as that same widow, who remained alone and abandoned in the world, after her husband, her childhood friend, died and passed away.
In the world of believing Jews the destruction is perceived as an event which came from the heavens, and therefore they stand wondering and embarrassed and ask themselves: how “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn of Israel. He has withdrawn his right hand at the approach of the enemy, He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire that consumes everything around it” (Lamentations 2:3), the cry of lamentations. In this meaning we hear from the weeping of the generation of the destruction of the Second Temple who gathered in Yavne under the leadership of their Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai: “Only Yochanan Ben Torata said: Why was Shiloh destroyed? Because of idolatry, incest and bloodshed which was within it. But during the latest (the days of the Second Temple) we know that they studied the Torah and were cautious with the tithes – because what did they discover? That they loved money and hated each other. To teach you, that hating each other is difficult before the place (the Holy One Blessed Be He) and it is easy to write against idolatry and incest and bloodshed (Tosefta, Menachot, 13:12).
Indeed in the generations of the Second Temple there was no faithful generation in the ways of the Torah and the leadership of the sages of the Torah in the generation of the destruction. And the more that this faithfulness deepened – the more grave was the crisis of the destruction that befell those same believing Jews, who experienced the terrors of the destruction. The destruction could have caused those same good and believing Jews, to undermine their faith in continuing to keep the covenant of Sinai; and the loss of any reason to continue to keep the Torah and their lifestyle, which were based on this covenant.
How did the wonder of the existence of the people of Israel continue notwithstanding this grave crisis?
This was not a miracle from heaven, but rather the work of a small number of sages, who survived the destruction, and ordered the tortured people that they should see the destruction as one of the stages and attempts of the covenant of Sinai. Anyone who had faith in truth and by virtue of this covenant had to overcome this attempt, this means: to continue to live as Jews even without Jerusalem and the Temple and a holy place of the people of Israel. And we hear from Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai the following fable:
“If you had a sapling in your hand, and they said to you: this is the Messiah! – plant the sapling and thereafter go and align it” (Avot De Rabbi Natan, Version B, Chapter 34).
That is to say: continue to live as a Jew even in the reality of the destruction in the land of Israel and if people come and say to you: why are you occupied with these small details of daily Jewish living (”the sampling”) – because the Messiah is coming and waiting for you!.....Do not listen to them. Just continue to take care of that same “sapling” in your hand. And after you have planted it in the soil – go out to see the truth about the coming of the Messiah: if the Messiah has indeed come – you shall have both the Messiah and the sapling. And if it transpires that it was just a rumour – go back to your home and continue to take care of the sapling.
That is Yavne that the sages ordered the tortured people. As a result of it the Jewish settlement continued to exist in Israel, as a producing settlement and as a centre for the dispersion, for hundreds of years after the destruction.
And therefore a lesson is learned for the generations as to how to turn the crisis of the destruction into leverage for constructive creativity.