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
Perhaps it is for this reason that the donations for the Mishkan’s construction were collected from all members of the Jewish nation, as the Torah relates (Shemos 35:21-25), “They came, every man whose heart lifted him, and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the donation of Hashem…and every man with whom there was turquoise or purple wool…brought them…and anyone with whom there was acacia wood for all of the work brought it, and every wise woman spun with her hands.” The universal collection enabled every member of the Jewish people to have a part in the construction of the Mishkan.
This principle is manifested particularly in the adanim, the silver sockets that served as the foundations of the Mishkan. The adanim were fashioned from the silver collected through the machatzis hashekel (Shemos 38:25-27), which was contributed equally by every member of the Jewish nation, as the pasuk states (ibid., 30:15), “The wealthy man shall not give more and the poor man shall not give less than half a shekel.” This alluded to the fact that the Mishkan was to be the product of a joint effort of the entire Jewish people.
Furthermore, the craftsmen who were in charge of the construction of the Mishkan were Betzalel ben Uri of Shevet Yehudah and Aholiav ben Achisamach of Shevet Dan. The fact that these two tribes were selected is quite significant, for the tribe of Yehudah traveled at the head of the nation on their journeys (Bamidbar 10:14) while the Tribe of Dan was the rear guard (ibid., v. 25). Thus, the selection of craftsmen from these two tribes indicates that the construction of the Mishkan was associated with the entire Jewish people and that the artisans who performed it were considered to be representing every member of the nation.
This concept can also shed light on another aspect of the construction of the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash. Moshe Rabbeinu’s command to the Jewish people to build the Mishkan was presented at a public assembly, as the Torah relates (Shemos 35:1-11), “Moshe assembled the entire congregation of Bnei Yisrael and said to them, ‘…and every wise man among you shall come and make what Hashem has commanded, the Mishkan….’ ”
The Mishkan’s inauguration also took place in the context of a public assembly; in the Torah’s description of the first day of its inauguration, the pasuk states (Vayikra 8:3), “He assembled the entire congregation at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”
This was true not only of the Mishkan but also of the Beis HaMikdash. Regarding the inauguration of the Beis HaMikdash the navi relates (Melachim I 8:1-2), “Then Shlomo assembled the elders of Yisrael, all the heads of the Tribes, the princes of families of Bnei Yisrael, to King Shlomo to Yerushalayim, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem from the city of David, which is Tzion. All of the people of Yisrael gathered to King Shlomo.”
We must understand why a public assembly was needed for the construction or inauguration of the Beis HaMikdash and the Mishkan. Chazal, in fact, address this issue (in Seder Olam ch. 15): “ ‘Then Shlomo assembled’ – this teaches that the Shechinah rests only on an assembly, just as the pasuk states [regarding the Shechinah resting upon the Mishkan], ‘The people saw and they sang’ (Vayikra 9:24)…. With regard to Mattan Torah, it states (Shemos 19:11), ‘For on the third day Hashem will descend before the eyes of the entire nation on Mount Sinai,’ and it says about the Beis HaMikdash (Divrei Hayamim II 7:1-3), ‘When Shlomo finished praying the fire descended from the heavens…and Hashem’s honor filled the House…and all of Bnei Yisrael saw the fire descend and the honor of Hashem upon the House.’ ”
Thus it was necessary for these events to take place at a public gathering because they were preparing a place for the Shechinah to rest in the Jewish people’s midst, and “the Shechinah rests only on an assembly.”
Indeed, the Beis HaMikdash was the single most unifying force that brought together the disparate Jews comprising the Jewish nation. The Beis HaMikdash was home to every Jew; it was the place where every Jew, regardless of approach to serving Hashem, could come and be welcomed. It was the place where korbanos were accepted from all Jews and where all Jews came together as one man and with one heart to serve their creator.
Unity in Diversity
There is a common misconception as to what constitutes unity. Unity does not mean we must totally negate the differences between us. Unity does not mean everyone has to fall into line and only serve Hashem one particular way. On the contrary, we find in the Torah that there were twelve tribes, each with its own unique path in serving Hashem. Each tribe had a different flag that encapsulated its essence, its uniqueness and the singular qualities it brought to its service of Hashem. Similarly, we find in both Vayechi and Zos Haberachah that when Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the tribes, they blessed each one “according to its individual blessing.”
Furthermore, the Torah teaches us that each tribe had a different color stone implanted in the choshen (breastplate) worn by the kohen gadol, the high priest, when he was engaged in the service. This again showed that difference in approach when it comes to serving Hashem does not necessarily signify lack of unity. All the tribes were unified on the choshen, and all were blessed by Moshe as one, even as their differences were simultaneously acknowledged.
There is, however, one central caveat that cannot be overemphasized. Yes, the tribes were all different – but when they came thrice yearly to the Beis HaMikdash they came together as one. No one decided to go somewhere else because he felt he could better serve Hashem elsewhere. The Beis HaMikdash was the ultimate meeting point – the central address where all Jews could and were obligated to come together to serve Hashem in unity.
There is a crucially important practical message for us in our times that we would be wise to internalize. Yes, there are varied approaches to serving Hashem and each tribe must choose the one that will help it reach its true potential. Nevertheless, there is a time when all Jews, all of Klal Yisrael, must come together in unity. When they came to the Beis HaMikdash, all differences were put aside and together they basked in the pure spirituality of the Shechinah.
In our time, too, it is no secret that there are many opinions among our various communities on what constitutes the best approach to service of Hashem. Nevertheless, it behooves us at times to put everything aside, all the arguments regarding what is best, and focus purely on Torah. For now that we don’t have the Beis HaMikdash, “We have nothing left but this Torah.” Torah is the ultimate manifestation of spirituality in our time and thus there must be a time that all the tribes in Klal Yisrael declare its complete dedication to Torah and to learning Torah in unity.
This is what the worldwide Torah movement Dirshu has attempted to accomplish with structured learning programs and Torah conventions that encompass the entire Torah community. This was the essence of the three yearly pilgrimages. It was the time when all differences, even legitimate ones, were put aside and the Jewish people focused solely on spirituality. This was and is the ultimate achdus and the ultimate tikkun for the churban.
‘The Shechinah Rests Only Upon an Assembly’
In light of the above, we can understand why the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash was a most fitting punishment for the terrible sin of sinas chinam, which by its very nature represents division among people and is the polar opposite of unity.
“Sinas chinam,” notes Rabbeinu Bacheye, “is division among hearts, when people have different thoughts and do not agree to one opinion, when each of them has his own ideas and feels that his fellow is no better than he, when none of them recognizes the value of someone greater than he, but rather they all want to be at the top. As a result, their minds and their hearts are divided.”
This fragmentation of the Jewish people is diametrically opposed to the essence of the Beis HaMikdash, which was founded on the idea that “the Shechinah rests only upon an assembly.” Maharal sums this up concisely: “The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, for their hearts were divided and they were divided, and they were no longer worthy of the Mikdash, which was the unity of Klal Yisrael.”
It is therefore incumbent on all of us to unite through Torah so that we can once again achieve closeness with Hashem. In that merit, we will see the Shechinah resting in our midst once again and will experience the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.
Rav Dovid Hofstedter
About the Author: Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the author of the Dorash Dovid sefarim on the Torah and Moadim and the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, impacting more than 100,000 participants since its inception 19 years ago.
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