Parashat Devarim- The Root Cause of the Hurban
Each year we discuss Tisha BeAv and the destruction of the First and Second Temple before Parashat Devarim. Of course, we hope that these words will not be necessary or relevant, as we pray that the Bet HaMikdash will be rebuilt. Similarly, some report that a certain famous rabbi would put his Kinot is geniza each year, and buy a new book each year, hoping that each year will be the last year.
The Talmud (Yoma 9a) teaches that the first Temple was destroyed because the people violated three cardinal sins: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed. The Second Temple, however, was destroyed due to “sinat hinam” - wanton hatred. The gemara then asks, and in the First Temple era was there really no baseless hatred? The gemara suggests that while during the First Temple period it was only the leaders of the nation who harbored baseless hatred for each other, during the Second Temple period, the nation as a whole engaged in wanton hatred.
The Talmud further suggests that during the First Temple period, the sin was exposed and evident to all therefore, and they made no attempt to hide their behavior. In this case their punishment was also revealed and they knew that they would return to the Land after seventy years. During the Second Temple period, however, the people attempted to disguise their behavior, and therefore, the scope and extent of their punishment was also disguised and kept a secret.
Let us ask a simple question: What is the sin of “sinat hinam”? Seemingly, eating hametz on Pesah, or violating the Shabbat are worse sins! There seem to be so many more severe sins than sinat hinam. Why do the Rabbis insist that the Temple was destroyed due to sinat hinam? Interestingly, elsewhere (Nedarim 81a) the Talmud attributes the destruction of the First Temple to the people not reciting Birkot HaTorah, the blessings said each morning before learning Torah. Here too, we must ask, is it possible that this is the reason for the destruction of the first Temple and the exile of the Jewish people?
I would like to suggest the following idea: While it is true that during the First Temple period they violated the three cardinal sins, the Rabbis searched for the source, the reason for their sins. The Rabbis suggested, based upon a verse in Yirmiyahu (9:11), that the people did not say the blessings over the Torah. Do the Rabbis really believe that the Temple was destroyed because the people did not recite the Birkot HaTorah before studying Torah?
The word “Torah” means instruction. The Torah is a guide; an instruction manual. Torah is meant to offer guidance and refine the character of a person. The Rabbis teach that the non-Jews have much wisdom, “hochma bagoyyim ta’amin”; however, they do not have Torah, i.e. their wisdom is not intended to change and refine a person. There is a separation between the philosophy and the behavior.
R. Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf HaYomi, noted that in Pirkei Avot, each and every teaching is attributed to a person, because the ethical teachings can be demonstrated by the behavior of its teacher.
However, Torah only changes, and elevates a person when it is studied with the proper intention. When we see people who learn Torah but do not behave properly, we must assume that they are not learning Torah properly.
The Rabbis wondered how, during the First Temple Period, people who are learning Torah could also violate these three grave sins? They explained that “they did not recite the blessings before [studying Torah],” in other words, they did not put the Torah in the proper context and learn it properly, with the right intentions. The purpose of Torah is to grow into a better person.
Therefore, the root cause of the destruction of the first and second Temple was not really the three cardinal sins, or sinat hinam, rather, the Temples were destroyed because they learned Torah without any intention to change. During the First Temple, this improper learning led to the violation of the three sins, and during the Second Temple, it led to sinat hinam. Unfortunately, the Temple has not been rebuilt because we haven’t yet succeeded in internalizing our Torah study, and allowing the Torah to shape and refine our personality, and become better people.
The Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiba taught, “ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha- zeh klal gadol baTorah” – “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself, this is a great principle in the Torah.” We can explain that the “klal gadol”, the “great principle”- is the essence of Torah, and loving our fellow man is an outgrowth of the proper approach to and study of the Torah.