Devarim – What Are We Mourning Over (Tisha B’Av)

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

This Shabbos is Tisha B’av, although we don’t observe the fast and mourning until the tenth of Av, the next day. We find a hint to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash in one of the verses in this week’s Torah portion of Devarim. The beginning of the second perek of Devarim begins: “Then we turned and journeyed into the desert by way of the Red Sea, as the Lord had spoken to me, and we circled Mount Seir for many days. And the Lord spoke to me, saying, ‘You have circled this mountain long enough; turn northward. And command the people saying, You are about to pass through the boundary of your kinsmen, the children of Esav, who dwell in Seir, and they will be afraid of you. Be very careful’” (Devarim 2:1-4).

Tucked within the 3rd pasuk, Rabbeinu Bachye quotes an obscure Medrish Rabba found in the Lieberman edition, that another understanding of the words “turn northward,” or in Hebrew פנו לכם צפונה, is that the word ‘tzafon’ can be read ‘tzafun,’ like ‘Ohr Hatzafun,’ the hidden light. The Medrish relates that Hashem was addressing His children, saying: “’I have one hidden treasure amongst you, which is the Beis HaMikdash which I hid within you and it will be destroyed in the future,’ as it says, ‘And I shall turn My face away from them, and they will profane My secret place’ (Yechezkel 7:22).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Beis HaMikdash was not an edifice built by the Jews simply in order for Hashem’s Shechinah to rest, perform miracles for His children, and to more closely interact with them. Rather, it was Hashem’s palace in this world, created by Him, through His loyal servants, His beloved children, the prince and princesses of Hashem, the Jewish people. They were also the guardsmen of the palace. The palace was lovingly tucked away within the land promised to His children, a hidden treasure, which no person had the right to simply visit and take a stroll within.

But alas, the loyal servants and guardsmen became corrupt. They didn’t act as true servants of Hashem, the Holy King Of All Kings. To the degree that the Sefer Menoras HaMeor relates from a gemara in Yoma 9a, that during the time of the first Beis HaMikdash (which lasted 410 years) there were a maximum of 18 kohen gadols who served within. The Second Beis HaMikdash, which lasted 420 years, had more than 300 kohen gadols serve inside it. Of those 300, Shimon HaTzadik served for 40 years, Yochanan Kohen Gadol for 80 years, Yochanan ben Narvai Kohen Gadol for 10 years and Elazar ben Charsum served for 11 years. Excluding this total of 141 years, for the remainder of the 420 years, not one kohen gadol lasted a year (they didn’t survive the Yom Kippur service). Why? Because they bribed their way into the position. Slowly but surely the Beis HaMikdash became a spiritually dilapidated building until the Romans came to physically violate it and burn it to ashes (Menoras HaMeor, ner 4, klal 3, chelek 1, perek 3).

The Medrish Rabba on the first part of pasuk 3 above, states: “You have circled this mountain long enough”  this pasuk is linked to a pasuk in Tehillim (37:7): “Wait silently for Hashem and wait longingly for Him.” In another explanation of these two pesukim quoted in the Medrish, “Rebbe Yehoshua ben Levi said: ‘When the [Roman] enemies came to destroy Yerushalayim there were 600,000 destructive angels standing at the entrance of the Sanctuary ready to harm them. However when the destructive angels saw the Divine Presence observing silently [without objecting] – and from where do we know this to be so? For it is written: ‘He drew back His right hand in the presence of the enemy’ (Eichah 2:3) – they too made way for the enemy to enter” (Medrish Rabba, Devarim 1:17).

The Etz Yosef, in the name of the Eshed HaNechalim, quoting Kabbalists, explains that there are two types of “destructive angels” – good and bad. The bad ones are of the desert, and the good ones are of the house. The good ones are a positive force that only desires good. They did not let the enemy enter the Beis HaMikdash until they saw the Shechinah, the Holy Presence, observing silently, and then they ran away.
Hashem was so “dumbfounded” at the sight of His Holy Palace spiritually dilapidated, that it came to a point where He “just stood there” observing silently [without objecting], allowing the Romans to come and destroy His precious palace. The hundreds of thousands of angels who came to protect the palace had no choice but to retreat and let the destruction take its course.

The spiritual dilapidation was caused by the servants’ of Hashem, who were once Hashem’s trusted children. But they had lost that trust and were deserving to be punished and exiled.

Today, still in exile, is not a result of what once was but a result of where we are holding at this very moment. Are we ready to be the rebuilders of the Third Beis HaMikdash, the guardians and trusted servants of the Holy King Of All Kings. When we prove our loyalty then Hashem will peacefully return His Holy Presence to His Temple Mount and rebuild His palace, may it come speedily in our days.

May our tears of mourning turn into tears of joy,