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Tuesday, July 25

The Weekly Shtikle - Tish'ah B'Av

Two and a half weeks ago, Rabbi Sholom Gold of Har Nof passed away at the age of 88. He was a musmach of Ner Yisroel in Baltimore and founded Ner Yisroel in Toronto. Although I never really met him in person, I gained a great deal from his fiery shiurim on cassette tape. Below is a shiur I heard from him on Tish'ah B'Av. His Torah, as well as a video of the levaya are available on his website. The shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso.


On one occasion, three consecutive people charged Rabbi Gold with being a zealot and asserted that it was because of the zealots that the second beis hamikdash was destroyed. Indeed, the very tragic gemara in the fifth perek of Gittin (56a) does recount the ugly actions of the zealots who burned the food supply of the resistance from within Yerushalayim. But there is much more said in the gemara and rishonim regarding the causes of the churban.


First, if you ask anyone what the single cause of the churban bayis sheini was, they are more than likely to say it was sin'as chinam, baseless hatred. Indeed, the gemara (Yoma 9b) does state that the cause for the destruction of the second beis hamikdash was sin'as chinam. But there is more. The gemara (Shabbos 119b) also lists a difference of opinion involving eight different amoraim as to what caused the destruction of Yerushalayim. Societal breakdowns such as disrespect of talmidei chachamim and lack of shame are listed. A certain marketplace was destroyed 3 years prior to Yerushalayim because monetary matters were judged too strictly, according to the gemara in Bava Metzia (88a).


As part of the infamous episode of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the chachamim are faced with a quandary as to whether or not to bring as a korban the animal which Bar Kamtza had deliberately blemished. First, they suggest to just bring it anyway. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas rejects that possibility as onlookers might derive from there that you may bring a blemished animal as a korban. They then suggest killing Bar Kamtza so that he would not report back to the emperor. Again, they are opposed by R' Zechariah ben Avkulas who suggests that one might derive that the penalty for bringing a blemished animal for a korban is death. R' Yochanan then says in the gemara (56a) that R' Zecharia's "humility" destroyed our beis hamikdash, burnt our sanctuary and exiled us from our land, a rather harsh charge for a seemingly innocent exchange of opinion.


However, we find such a statement in an even more surprising setting. The Tosefta (Shabbos 17) discusses a disagreement between Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai regarding what may done with leftover bones on the table on Shabbos. R' Zecharia ben Avkulas would not do like either and would make sure the bones never reached the table. R' Yossi then charges R' Zecharia's humility for causing the destruction. R' Gold explains that R' Zecharia ben Avkulas represented leadership that was unable to make a stand. When the future of Klal Yisroel was on the line with Bar Kamtza, a decision needed to be made. There were options but R' Zecharia could offer nothing more than reasons why those options were not viable. He was not able to take a position and stand behind it. It is the same theme we see regarding Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel. It is this lack of leadership that caused the nation to crumble.


In an encounter with Rabba bar bar Chanah while immersing in the Jordan River, Reish Lakish (Yoma 9b) charges viciously that he (Rabba bar bar Chanah) and the rest of the Babylonian community are hated by HaShem. Citing a pasuk in Shir HaShirim, Reish Lakish explains that had the Jews of Bavel returned to Eretz Yisroel with Ezra en masse, like a wall, they would have been likened to silver which does not rot. Since the influx of Jews was only like that of doors, they were likened to cedar wood and indeed, they did ultimately rot. There were approximately 7 million Jews in Bavel during the short exile there, of which only two million or so followed Ezra and returned to the Holy Land. Had the Jews of Bavel followed Ezra's call in greater numbers, the destruction of the beis hamikdash might have been prevented.


Rambam once wrote a letter to the wise men of Montpelier (France, not Vermont) addressing their interest in astrology. Rambam explained that astrology is an empty and vain study. He added that the wise men in the time of the second beis hamikdash devoted much time to the study of astrology. They did not spend the necessary resources to learn about warfare and build a respectable and formidable army. The reliance on astrology and lack of experience in warfare, explained Rambam, ultimately brought about the destruction of our kingdom.


Finally, Ramban (Vayechi and Bechukosai) points us to King Agrippas and his travels to Rome and the many treaties that were signed with the Romans. With these unnecessary treaties, we invited our future oppressors onto our own turf. Through apparent acts of peace and friendship, we brought our own demise upon us.


So, it seems quite clear that it was not the zealots who single-handedly brought down the second beis hamikdash. But what are we to make of all these apparent differences of opinion? R' Gold explains that our crushing defeat at the hands of the Romans was far more than a simple military downfall. The Roman conquest of Eretz Yisrael was comprised of a number of unique and specific components. Our capital was sacked and completely destroyed. Our Holy Temple was brought down to the ground. Rather than being occupied by our conquerors, we were exiled from our land. The many causes of the churban bayis sheini listed above address the many aspects of our downfall.


The beis hamikdash itself fell because of sin'as chinam. It simply could no longer accept the sacrifices of a people who harboured such unprovoked hatred of one another.


The gemara in Shabbos citing the various societal and religious deteriorations are clearly talking about the fall of Yerushalayim. The city was guarded not by its walls but by the deeds of its inhabitants. When the society fell apart, the city followed suit.


Militarily, we simply had nothing significant to put forth to stop the Roman onslaught. Had we not spent our time studying astrology and built up a proper army, Rambam suggests the outcome might have been different.


The churban also brought with it the loss of sovereignty and independence and the ultimate loss of our homeland. When our leadership lost its resolve and its ability to take a stand on the issues when the going got tough, the very fabric of our nation was doomed. A nation must be able to rely on its leaders to make critical decisions. R' Yochanan, in criticizing R' Zecharia's humility, makes specific mention of the exile in addition to the churban. Of course, we cannot ignore that our presence in Eretz Yisrael was weak from the very beginning. The stories of the churban show that we came ever so close to fending off the Roman attack. Reish Lakish was thoroughly convinced that had our numbers been greater, had more than an embarrassing minority followed Ezra to reinhabit Eretz Yisrael, we just might have succeeded.


This exploration of these holy words of our sages has shown, if nothing else, that the churban habayis was an extremely complex turn of events. It is foolish to look back and pin the responsibility on one individual, group or event. But it is safe to assume that this matter was not addressed by our sage merely for its historical value. We are given these many approaches and understandings of the churban so that we may do a better part in our day to learn from the mistakes of the past and to help end this exile and bring the Moshiach, may he come speedily in our day.


Have a meaningful fast, or better yet, may there be no fast at all!

Eliezer Bulka

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