We are still in galus. Another year has gone by, a difficult year in many ways, but Mashiach has not yet arrived, the Beis HaMikdash has not yet been rebuilt and we are still languishing in exile.
Tragically, discord and disunity are not strangers in our midst.
Religion has been under fire, both in the United States and in Israel. Legislative initiatives have been made that in many ways infringe on our religious tenets and compromise our ability to try to live morally upstanding lives and educate our children in that way.
Unfortunately, even in Israel, the contribution of those who observe religion and learn Torah is often underappreciated.
Perhaps even more heartbreaking is the fact that even within our own communities there has been plenty of discord and baseless hatred. We know that sinas chinam – baseless hatred – was the primary reason for the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash and is a primary force preventing the rebuilding of the third and final Beis HaMikdash.
Let us delve into the words of our sages regarding the cause of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and perhaps internalize the lessons needed to be learned so that we will merit the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the ultimate redemption.
Scourge of Sinas Chinam
At the time of His wrath, He went up and sat in the highest of High Places. Bnei Yisrael screamed and they were not answered; they cried and their voices were not heard. They decreed a fast and sat and wallowed in the dust, and they covered themselves with sackcloth and shed tears like streams of water, and all of them wept, from the oldest to the youngest, and they were not heard. Why was this? Because of baseless hatred, which is worse before Hashem than all of the transgressions and sins in the world (Midrash Pisaron Torah, end of Parshas Ha’azinu).
It is evident from Chazal that the primary factor that led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was the terrible sin of sinas chinam that existed among the Jewish people. The very first words of Megillas Eichah also allude to this, as the Rishonim point out that the initial letters of the first seven words of the megillah – “Eichah yashvah vadad ha’ir rabbasi am hayesah”/ “Alas, she dwells alone, the city great in people has become” – form the Hebrew words eivah ra’ah, “bad enmity.”
SMaK elaborates on this: “For the punishment for sinas chinam is very great, for those who had committed the three cardinal sins were redeemed after seventy years, while those whose only sin was baseless hatred were sent into an exile whose end has still not been revealed.”
While we understand that sinas chinam is a very grave sin, why were Bnei Yisrael punished for it specifically by losing the Beis HaMikdash? What is the connection between this aveirah and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash?
The Shechinah and Unity
The function of the Beis HaMikdash was to provide a means for the Shechinah to reside within the Jewish people. This is clear from Hashem’s initial commandment to build the Mishkan (Shemos 25:8) – “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” – and from the Torah’s later statement (ibid. 29:44-45), “I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting…and I will dwell in the midst of Bnei Yisrael.”
The Vilna Gaon teaches in his commentary on Mishlei (6:19) that the Shechinah rests on the Jewish people only when total unity exists among them: “When Bnei Yisrael are united, then the Shechinah rests on Yisrael…but when there are ‘conflicts among brothers,’ then, ‘My Soul is revolted’ (Vayikra 26:30).”
This idea is conveyed by the Zohar as well to explain the pasuk (Iyov 23:13), “He is in one, and who will respond to Him?” The Zohar explains that Hashem rests His Shechinah upon the Jewish people only when they are as one, united as if with a single heart and not divided by envy or enmity; then, they are like the Heavenly angels, about whom it says (in the prayer of Yotzer Ohr), “They all accept upon themselves the Kingship of Heaven…all of them as one.”
The Entire Nation Built the Mishkan