The Jerusalem Talmud in Yuma tells us that any generation in which the Bais HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed in that generation. We must feel as if the Temple is afire today, and we should be pained that we have not merited its restoration.
Moreover, crying over its loss is not sufficient; we must repent – do teshuvah – so that the Bais HaMikdash is rebuilt. R’ Nissim Yagen notes that just as every person is capable of sinning, he also has the ability to do teshuvah. The problem arises when one does not admit to his wrongdoing. Then Hashem says (Yirmiyahu 2:35), “I am entering into judgment with you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” The Torah adjures us to look inward and not seek to blame others – whether one’s spouse, neighbor, teacher or boss. Only teshuvah will bring the geulah.
The First Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of the transgression of the three cardinal sins (idol worship, immorality, and bloodshed). Seventy years later the Second Bais HaMikdash was built, and the Talmud (Yuma 9b) tells us that, although the people learned Torah and did mitzvos, it was destroyed because of sinas chinam – baseless hatred and discord at home and among neighbors and friends – which destroys everything in its path. What is more, we learn that baseless hatred is worse than transgressing the three cardinal sins. This is evidenced by the fact that the first exile only lasted 70 years; today, it is more than 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple, and we are still in galus.
What is baseless hatred? Only someone out of his mind would disparage and spurn someone for no reason at all. That was not the situation in that generation. Rather, some small offense became overblown and took on a life of its own. The only appropriate reparation for sinas chinam is ahavas chinam – love with mesiras nefesh and forgiving others, i.e. overlooking slights and extending oneself to live in peace with others. We learn (Rosh Hashanah 17a), “Whoever forgives others, Hashem is forgiving of him.”
The Talmud (Taanis 25b) relates that once during a severe drought, R’ Eliezer recited 24 blessings but he was not answered. R’ Akiva then descended before the Ark and cried, “Our Father, our King, we have no king other than You,” and immediately the skies opened and rain fell. The people began to whisper among themselves that R’ Akiva, a convert and the disciple of R’ Eliezer, was answered, but R’ Eliezer was not. Concerned for the honor of R’ Eliezer, a Heavenly Voice proclaimed: It is not because R’ Akiva is greater than R’ Eliezer. But R’ Akiva is forgiving of others, and R’ Eliezer is not – meaning that R’ Akiva was especially outstanding in this trait.
This remarkable trait is demonstrated by Yosef’s demeanor toward his brothers throughout his life. Yosef’s brothers threw him into a pit and were considering killing him. They sold him into slavery. Yosef suffered because of the wife of Potifar, and spent twelve years in prison. Despite all the hardships, he bore no grudge against his brothers. When he revealed his identity to them, he sent out all the servants so that his brothers should not be embarrassed before them. He did not reproach or censure them, and assured them that it was divinely ordained that he should be in Egypt so that he could provide sustenance for the people. Even after the death of Yaakov, when the brothers were afraid that Yosef would use this opportunity to retaliate, Yosef once again assured them that he had no grievance against them.
During a routine exam, the heart of a woman from Bnei Brak stopped beating. All attempts to revive her were to no avail. A death certificate was signed, and the Chevra Kadisha were called.
Suddenly the woman opened her eyes. The people in the room trembled, as the woman began to speak softly. She reported that she was in the olam ha’emes (afterworld), standing before the Heavenly Court. It had been determined that she had indeed observed all the mitzvos, but she had fallen short in two areas, for which she was now being censured. She had fulfilled the mitzvos in a perfunctory manner, and she had not conferred appropriate honor upon certain distinguished individuals.
She related that her father, who had passed away at the age of 90, had been a great tzaddik. At the end of his life he had lost his vision, and when he would prepare to leave, this woman would always take him where he needed to go. He was reluctant to impose upon her, but she would tell him that it was not safe for him to go alone in the streets. He told her that as soon as he left the house he would feel two angels come over to hold him by his arms, and they would lead him where he was going.
When the Heavenly Court ruled that the woman would not go to Gan Eden, her father interceded on her behalf, and said: She is the wife of a talmid chacham, and the mother of children. Give her back her neshamah.
The Heavenly Court listened to his pleas, because of his greatness, and allowed the woman’s neshamah to return to her body. The woman healed from her illness and returned home.
Until the moment the woman stood before the Heavenly Court, she thought she was doing well. But such thinking is fallacious, because man tends not to properly gauge his responsibilities, obligations, and performance.