Every year, one of the greatest challenges going into Tisha B’Av is the statement of the Gemara Yerusalmi “A generation in which the Temple is not built is considered to be one in which it was destroyed” (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:10). The Gemara also tells us that, the people at the time of the destruction studied Torah, observed the mitzvot and performed good deeds. Their great failure was in sinat chinam- baseless hatred. It was internal strife and conflict that ultimately brought about the Temple’s destruction( Yoma 9b). The logical conclusion that one must take from these two Gemarot, is that if in our days the Temple is still not rebuilt, then our generation is still suffering from the ills of sinat chinam, which was the cause of the original destruction.
The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda of Berlin), in his introduction to the book of Bereshit, writes that the cause of sinat chinam during the time of the Second Temple was that people believed that they had a monopoly on Avodat Hashem. He says that when people saw others worshiping Hashem in the way that they deemed unfitting, they would declare them to be heretics. These people were not doing anything wrong, on the contrary they were finding their own unique expression in serving Hashem but since it did not fit into what was thought to the “right” world view, it was deemed heretical, which ultimately led to in fighting amongst the Jews and the destruction of the Temple. As the Netziv writes that Hashem cannot stand “Tzadikim” like these and because of this the Temple was destroyed.
The question that should confront us each and every year, is how are we going to change this year, so that the Temple will be re-built speedily in our days? Rav Kook writes that, “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam. (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)
How are we able to develop this trait of ahavat chinam, which if we are successful in that endeavor will bring about the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple? I believe that the answer can begin with the gemara in Meschet Ta’anit . The gemara writes that – “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit sharing in her joy” Ta’anit 30b). After a cursory glance of this Gemara it begs the question, why did the Sages say that those who mourn Jerusalem will merit seeing it ‘in its joy’? It would be more consistent to say that they will merit seeing Jerusalem, restored and rebuilt. After all, the mourning is because of the destruction of the city?
Rav Kook in Mo’adei HaRe’iyah explains as follows, the Sages knew that when the city of Jerusalem would again be rebuilt everyone alive at the time would witness the rebuilding of the city. Even those people who did not mourn, or realize that there was anything lacking in its destruction, would see it rebuilt. Therefore, the Sages are telling us, it is true that many people will see Jerusalem rebuilt, however only those who mourned for its destruction, will “merit sharing in her joy” feeling the joy and excitement of its rebuilding.
Though Rav Kook has explained why the Sages chose the words that they did, it is still puzzling why the Gemara wrote “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem” and not “whoever mourns for the Temple”? I believe that within the identity of the city of Jerusalem, there are fundamental lessons that need to be internalized, without which rebuilding the Temple will be a very daunting task.
The Gemara in Bava Kama 82b lists ten Mitzvot ,which were not practiced in the city of Jerusalem, including making the declaration of an “ir ha-nidachat” (idolatrous city), etc. The reason given in the Gemara for this unique status was that Jerusalem, unlike all other portions of The Land of Israel, was not divided amongst any of the tribes.
The Gemara Yoma 12a continues in a similar theme and writes that houses may not be rented out in Jerusalem because “it (Jerusalem) is not theirs.” Meaning, the halakha that Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes means, in a practical sense, that Jerusalem does not belong to us. The status of Jerusalem transcends the individual , is not the private property or personal acquisition of any person in Israel, but rather is a part of Klal Yisrael collectively.
Secondly, the Gemara in Yoma (ibid.) continues and says that Jerusalem can never have the status of an “ir nidachat” because the Torah, in teaching this law, uses the word “arekha” (your cities) – and Jerusalem is not included in this collective term since it was not given to any of the tribes. Although Jerusalem belongs to Klal Yisrael, it is nevertheless not altogether and completely theirs: it has a special status and is not part of “arekha” – the collection of cities. Jerusalem is God’s city, the dwelling place of the Shekhina: “This is My resting place forever and ever.”
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein says that the messages that are being conveyed in the above Gemarot are as follows. “The fact that Jerusalem belongs to no individual, issues to us a call to elevate ourselves above the egoism symbolized by private acquisitiveness. We need to rise above the prevailing idea that “What is mine, is mine; and what is yours, is yours” – which, as we remember, is termed in Avot as “the philosophy of Sodom.” Thus, one aspect of Jerusalem is elevation above considerations of promoting our own personal interests – both material and spiritual. The fact that Jerusalem was not given to any one specific tribe lends it a dimension of completeness and unity. The unity of Jerusalem is a result not of a negation and nullification of differences but rather of a complex combination of the different tribes.”
As mentioned above the Netziv was of the opinion that the Chet of sinat chinam, was because people thought that they had a monopoly on religious worship, and that anyone who did not follow their views was a heretic. The city of Jerusalem is coming to teach us that we need to rise above the false perception that we own the truth, and to realize that as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein writes, “Lest any particular group wish to claim exclusive rights to Jerusalem, we need to declare in response: Jerusalem was not given to any of the tribes. We need to rise above spiritual imperialism which comes to impose one model only… The unity of Jerusalem is a result not of a negation and nullification of differences but rather of a complex combination of the different tribes.” (Holiday Journal, Yom Yerushaliyim VBM)
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi in the end of his book the Kuzari states that “Jerusalem will not be rebuilt until the Jewish people will yearn for it with an utmost longing; until they cherish its very stones and dust”. It is not enough just to mourn and long for the re-building and redemption of the physical city of Jerusalem, we must also desire to implant within ourselves the lessons of this holy city. Only with the message of Jerusalem routed firmly in our hearts will we be able to undertake the monumental task of rebuilding ourselves, and the world with us, through ahavat chinam.
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Gerstein, originally from Lancaster Pennsylvania, moved to Israel in 2007, and now serves in the Israeli Defence Force as the assistant to the Chief Rabbi of the Military Intelligence Division.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.