Reasons for the Destruction of Both Temples

“These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, in the Wilderness, in the Aravah, opposite the Sea of Reeds; between Paran and Tophel, and Lavan, and Chatzerot, and Di-zahav”

(Devarim 1:1)

This parashah is read close to Tishah b’Av. The word אלה (these) is an acronym for the phrase אבק  לשון  הרע (avak lashon hara, lit. the dust of lashon hara). Moshe warned the nation that their speech should be confined to words of Torah. When a person deviates from Torah topics and accustoms himself to speak nonsense, he can easily speak avak lashon hara, and from there, lashon hara itself. The Yetzer Hara drags a person into forbidden territory. He submerges him in an atmosphere of sin. The person considers avak lashon hara as insignificant, so he does not keep his distance from it. After his tongue becomes used to speaking this type of speech, he becomes sunk in the swamp of sin, falling into the quagmire of lashon hara itself. This is the meaning of the saying (Avot 4:2), “One sin leads to another.” When a person clings to a sin, small as it may be, his senses become dulled to transgression. He becomes accustomed to sin, and becomes further enmeshed in its net.

The last letters of the phrase אבק  לשון  הרע spell the word ענק (tremendous). Seemingly innocuous words of avak lashon hara can snowball into the terrible storm of lashon hara itself. Involvement in lashon hara, obviously, causes much time wasted from Torah study. A double sin results. One has transgressed the prohibition against lashon hara and has caused bitul Torah.

Chazal tell us (Eichah Rabbah, Introduction 2) that the first Beit Hamikdash fell due to the sin of bitul Torah. After Am Yisrael examined their deeds, they came to this realization, through love of Hashem (see Rashi, Shabbat 88a). The prophets of Am Yisrael prophesied a galut of seventy years, corresponding to the seventy facets of Torah which they had damaged (see Megillah 11b). On the other hand, during the second Beit Hamikdash, the people were righteous and involved in Torah study. Yet, the length of their galut was not stated clearly. Why not? (See Yoma 9b.)

The second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on account of baseless hatred. Only after Am Yisrael reach a level of unconditional love and brotherliness, will they merit the building of the third Beit Hamikdash. Centuries have passed since the time of the churban. Generations have come and gone. But the Temple remains in ruins. This indicates that we have not yet rectified the sin of baseless hatred. When we will reach the level of feeling true mutual responsibility and love of our fellow Jew, Hashem will hurry to return His children to their Land and build the third Temple.

This state of affairs blatantly proves that matters between man and his fellow man are more difficult to correct than matters between man and Hashem. Hashem foregoes His own honor and is quick to accept the teshuvah of His sons. But He is stringent in matters pertaining to His children’s honor and will not forgo it as easily.

During the second Beit Hamikdash, Am Yisrael were involved in Torah study, but did not integrate the messages of the Torah. Torah is a guidebook of how to improve our character traits (Zohar II, 82b). Hashem bestowed the Torah upon us in order that we improve our actions. If not for the Torah, one man would swallow his fellow man alive (Avot). Am Yisrael knew that Torah prevails only in one who humbles himself before it (Derech Eretz Zuta 8). But this knowledge remained in their minds and did not reach their hearts. Had they truly internalized this concept, they would have earned the traits of humility and submission, qualities which increase love and closeness between fellow men. In contrast, when people do not humble their egos, hatred and jealousy reign among them.

The allegation against Bnei Yisrael during the second Beit Hamikdash era was that they learned Torah with feelings of pride and superiority. This is akin to revolting against the Kingship of Hashem. The Midrash states (Tanna d’vei Eliyahu Rabbah 1), “Good character precedes Torah.” Torah is meant to bring a person to perfect his actions (see Kiddushin 40b). If their Torah study did not accomplish this, they were obviously not learning in the correct way. Instead of according Torah its proper respect by living by its precepts, the nation scorned it by behaving diametrically opposed to its teachings. Therefore, the charges against them were much greater than those against the generation of the first Beit Hamikdash. During the first Temple era, the people neglected Torah study altogether. During the era of the second Temple, they learned Torah, but did not internalize its message.

At the end of the day, those who lived during the second Beit Hamikdash era were involved in Torah study, whereas those of the first Beit Hamikdash were not. How could the later generation be held so much more accountable, immersed as they were in the sea of Torah? How could their Torah study, the potion of life, not rub off on them, affording them the balm of positive character traits?

Am Yisrael’s fault was that they were not careful in avoiding avak lashon hara. Many people fall into the sin of avak lashon hara because it seems insignificant in their eyes. It is man’s nature to become accustomed to sin. Because Am Yisrael at the time of the Temple were negligent in seemingly small things, they eventually spoke lashon hara and committed other offenses between fellow Jews.

Moshe Rabbeinu was aware of human nature. Therefore, he warned Bnei Yisrael about sins of speech before his death. He pierced their hearts with the sharp message that avak lashon hara must be categorically avoided. It may seem inconsequential, but this is not the case. Once a person accustoms himself to hear and speak avak lashon hara, he can easily fall prey to the sin of lashon hara itself.

“Not study, but practice is the main thing” (Avot 1:7). The entire purpose of Torah study is that it brings to practice (Berachot 17a). When a person does not study Torah in order to draw from its lessons, his Torah study is ineffective. This was the case during the second Beit Hamikdash era. Bnei Yisrael’s Torah study did not stand by them, and they fell in the sin of baseless hatred, for they had not learned Torah in order to practice its teachings.

Chazal relate (Gittin 55b) the incident of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, avid enemies, who contributed to the churban. The Chachamim of the generation sinned in lashon hara, and did not reprove the host for shaming his unwanted guest. The beginning of their end was listening to the host besmirch his guest with words of avak lashon hara. The Chachamim failed to make peace between them. At the very least, they should have silenced the diatribe of the host. However, they fell further and further in sin, listening to derogatory words against the guest.

This sin of avak lashon hara, seemingly small and insignificant, swelled to epic proportions, wounding our nation with the churban. The Chachamim were held responsible, for they could have squelched the lashon hara while it was still manageable. Had they swept away the dust of lashon hara, it would not have grown into the boulder of hatred and dissention which destroyed our Temple.

Merely a few grains of sand in the engine of a spaceship will prevent it from soaring into space. Only after the dust is removed and the engine is sufficiently cleaned, can it function appropriately, sending the spacecraft through the skies. Similarly, just a small amount of avak lashon hara is enough to damage the unity of Am Yisrael, to the extent that Hashem can no longer rest His Presence among His children (see Tanchuma, Chukat 4).

Hashem casts His wrath upon sticks and stones, instead of harming His children directly (see Eichah Rabbah 4:14). Am Yisrael are meant to see this and take the lesson that this is what should really be happening to them. Only out of love for His nation does Hashem keep them alive. He wants them to take the message to heart, correcting their wrong behavior.

A conflagration causes much dust and ash in the air. Hashem chose the method of burning the Beit Hamikdash in retribution for Am Yisrael’s actions, to teach them the significance of avak lashon hara. During the first Beit Hamikdash, Am Yisrael were remiss in Torah, the Tree of Life (see ibid., Introduction 2). Measure for measure, Hashem cast His fury upon the sticks and stones of the Beit Hamikdash. The second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on account of baseless hatred (Yoma 9b). This sin has roots in avak lashon hara.

In Summary

• Parashat Devarim is read close to Tishah b’Av. It opens with the wordאלה , an acronym for the phrase ~א*בק ~ל*שון ~ה*רע. Moshe warned the people that the beginning of lashon hara is merely in its dust, seemingly insignificant. But when it is not kept in check, it swells into lashon hara itself.

• The first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on account of bitul Torah. The second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed on account of baseless hatred. Bnei Yisrael were made aware of the length of the first galut, but not the length of the second. Why not? Hashem foregoes His own honor, but will not forego the honor of His children. As long as Bnei Yisrael have not corrected the sin of baseless hatred, Yerushalayim will remain desolate. Moreover, sins between fellow men are more difficult to rectify. Therefore, we have not yet completed this mission.

• During the days of the second Beit Hamikdash, Bnei Yisrael learned Torah, but did not learn the messages contained in it. They lacked an appreciation for good character, which precedes Torah. Since they studied Torah with an air of arrogance, their learning did not stand by them, and they sinned in interpersonal matters.

• The Chachamim of the generation of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza were held accountable for the churban, for they heard avak lashon hara but did not decry it. They then fell into the sin of lashon hara itself, for “one sin leads to another.”

• Hashem cast His wrath upon sticks and stones, which raise ash and dust when they burn. This was meant to hint to the people that the churban was caused by the fire of lashon hara. The first churban was a result of bitul Torah, when the people disregarded the Tree of Life. Hashem, measure for measure, cast His wrath upon the sticks and stones of the Beit Hamikdash.

Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan