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                      Tisha Bav - A Perplexing Question

                         adapted from “Outlooks and Insights” by Rabbi Zev Leff

                                                 Rabbi Binyomin Lipson

“Who is the wise man that he may understand it, and who is the one to whom Hashem has spoken that he may declare it? Why has the land perished, burnt up like a wilderness that none pass through? And Hashem said, ‘Because they have forsaken My Torah  which I set before them, and have not harkened to My voice, nor walked therein.’”

(Yirmiyahu 9:11-12)

The Gemara (Nedarim 81a) relates that the question of why the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed was posed to the Sages, prophets, and even to the ministering angels, yet no one was able to respond until Hashem Himself proclaimed the answer. “Because they have forsaken My Torah . . . And have not harkened to my voice nor walked in it.” This is certainly an explanation which leaves us with a lot of questions. Seemingly, the fact that the Jewish people had abandoned the Torah should have been something which was clearly apparent to all. Why was no one able to discern it, and why was it necessary for the Almighty Himself to reveal it?






The Gemara goes on to explain that in fact, the transgression which the verse discusses did not constitute a literal abandonment of Torah observance, but rather, the mere fact that they failed to recite a blessing over the Torah before they engaged in its study. Albeit, Birkat Hatorah is one of the few blessings which is actually a Torah obligation, however, how are we to understand the fact that such a severe punishment was meted out for such a seemingly minor crime? In addition, the Gemara in another location tells us that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to the three cardinal transgressions of immorality, murder, and idolatry. If so, then why did the prophet only mention the Jewish people’s failure to make a blessing over the Torah; a transgression which should have been far overshadowed by immorality, idolatry and murder?

It would seem that what the prophet is trying to tell us is that the fact that they did not make a blessing over the Torah was in fact the underlying cause of the severe transgressions which were later committed which in turn caused the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. How can it be that from omitting a blessing over the Torah the Jewish people sank to such a low level? If indeed they were learning Torah, why did their study not protect them?

The answer is that somehow, the fact that the Jewish people did not make a blessing over the Torah indicated that their Torah learning was intrinsically lacking.

In the text of Birkat Hatorah and all of the blessings that we recite over the performance of the mitzvot we proclaim, “Blessed are You Hashem . . . Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to . . .” When we received the Torah at Mount Sinai we did not merely receive six hundred and thirteen different tasks that we must perform. Rather, upon receiving the Torah we became a sanctified people who is not only responsible for “keeping the mitzvot” but also to live the sort of holy lifestyle which the mitzvot are intended to inculcate into our consciousness. Ultimately, we must attempt to understand the implications of Hashem’s commandments in a way that they will influence and shape our overall personality, outlook, and actions.

One Shabbos evening, HaRav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz was invited to be the guest of a certain person in his community. When R’ Mendlowitz and his host arrived home from shul, it was immediately obvious that the hostess had accidentally fallen asleep after an exhausting erev Shabbos and had not awoken in time to put he finishing touches on the table. Her husband, obviously very embarrassed in front of their important guest, proceeded to berate his embarrassed wife for her failure to complete the Shabbos preparations and to cover the challos. While all the commotion was going on, R’ Shraga Feivel was thinking to himself how ironic it was for someone to humiliate his wife for not covering the challos - a custom designed to keep the challos from being embarrassed by the fact that we first make kiddush over the wine and to teach us how sensitive we should be to another person’s honor.

Indeed, sometimes in our zeal to perform a mitzvah have learned about, we can completely forget the underlying message that the mitzvah is supposed to teach us.

Hashem’s answer to Yirmiyahu revealed how even people who studied the Torah and observed the mitzvot could begin a gradual downward spiral that eventually lead to murder, idol worship, and immorality. “Because they have forsaken My Torah . . .” Indeed, the Torah itself, the basic mitzvot and halachot were not forsaken, but My Torah”, the Torah which Hashem commanded us which was intended to pervade our attitudes and behavior and make us into a holy nation was in some way neglected. Of course, without properly observing the mitzvot we have not even begun our mission in life, but likewise, if we stop there and do not try to absorb the more subtle aspects of Hashem’s will which also speaks from the Torah we have certainly not achieved the goal which the Giver of the Torah intended for us.

May Hashem grant us all the ability to invest the time and effort to continue on a path of growth in Torah and mitzvot, and thereby to merit to see the complete redemption of the Jewish people and the rebuilding of Jerusalem speedily in our days.
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