by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – June 14, 2011
Upon reading the Torah section of Shelach, we learn that from the desert, Moses sent spies to scout out the land that G-d promised to the nation of Israel. Ten of the twelve spies returned with a negative account of the land, thereby weakening the will of the children of Israel who had come forth from Egypt. After the spies’ report, the populace burst out weeping (Bamidbar 14:1): “And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept all night.” Our Sages note (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 104b): “It was the night of Tisha B’Av and the Al-Mighty said to Israel: ‘You have wept without cause, therefore I will appoint a weeping for you for future generations.’” The Al-Mighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe, our Father in heaven, who had miraculously led His chosen nation out from under the Egyptian claws and tended to all the nation’s needs, personally promised the children of Israel this land. Instead of joyfully and graciously accepting His gift with out-stretched arms, realizing that our loving Father Who did so much for us would not lead us astray, the nation who regaled in all His benevolence scorned His gift and turned their back on their Father.
As a result of their reprehensible actions, G-d chose to keep this day, the day that His people turned their back on Him, as a day to remain emblazoned in history as a day of mourning. Our Sages point out (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26) that in addition to it’s being decreed on this day, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, that those who turned their back on their loving Father in heaven would not enter in to the land of Israel, both the first and second Bet HaMikdash (Temple) were destroyed on this day, the city of Betar was vanquished in the time of Bar Kochba and the city of Jerusalem was ploughed up as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold. Most prominent amongst these, an event that we mourn to this very day every year on the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar, Tisha B’Av, is the destruction of the first and second Bet HaMikdash (Temple).
As devout Jews the world over mourn on this solemn day of Tisha B’Av, it is worthy to elaborate on what this day actually represents and what exactly its solemnity entails. Of course, as mentioned, on this day both the first and second Temples were destroyed. But, how exactly is this occurrence to affect us to the point of dire sadness up until this very day?
In his Emunah V’Hashgacha, the renowned Torah giant known as the Vilna Gaon, R. Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer (1720 – 1797), points out that there are three ways whereby G-d manifests His Divine Providence. The first of the three, the way that G-d manifested His hashgacha (providence) during our 40 year sojourn in the desert, is called hanhaga nisit (miraculous behavior) where G-d behaved towards His people in an overtly miraculous manner.
Although those whom he lovingly extricated from the jaws of Egypt and showered with countless miracles turned their back on Him, G-d allowed their offspring to continue in their stead as His chosen nation and receive His gift of the land of Israel after an initial period of 40 years. This period of hanhaga nisit, in which the Israelites were fed manna from heaven, their thirst quenched by water from a well that flowed from a rock and all their needs taken care of directly by G-d, transpired as the nation of Israel was in its infancy. As infants, all their needs were taken care of by their magnanimous parent, their Father – our Father – the Al-Mighty Creator and Ruler of the universe. The Mishkan (Holy Tabernacle) – the home of our Father’s Divine Presence – was amongst the nation and all resided virtually adjacent to it. In effect, the crib of the infant Israelite nation was alongside the parent’s room and the parent tended to all of the infant’s needs.
When the nation of Israel entered their land, the Vilna Gaon continues, G-d’s Divine Providence began to manifest itself in a different manner, called hanhagat nisim nistarim, the way that G-d related to His people in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) until their exile. During this time, a direct relationship existed between nature and the nation of Israel’s obedience to their Father in heaven. Whereas the nation fended for itself, its success depended on choosing the proper course of action. If G-d’s commandments and precepts were abided by, the rains fell in their proper times and amounts, and health and wealth were the nation’s lot, while drought and famine resulted from sinful behavior.
During this period of hanhagat nisim nistarim, our Father’s Divine Presence resided in the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple), effectively the home of His Divine Presence. The nation had grown and matured and no longer needed the parent’s constant tending to its needs. Moreover, the people in general were no longer in the same proximity to their Father. Everyone did not live any longer at the doorstep, so to speak, of the Mishkan, the first home of the Divine Presence. Generally, it was a trek to the new home of His Presence, the Bet HaMikdash. Nevertheless, the magnanimous parent – our Father in heaven – was not far. He could be visited whenever one wished to do so, the grandeur of His home could be enjoyed and the parent would show His appreciation or disappointment. The nation was out of diapers and no longer in a crib and it was no longer alongside the parent’s room. The nation had grown up and moved out, but there was an open and symbiotic relationship between the nation of Israel and its loving Father in heaven. The loving Father was nearby and hugged us with His splendor. But, sadly, this relationship between our Father in heaven and His children, this close relationship in which the children could enjoy their Father and His Presence from up close at a relatively short distance, did not continue indefinitely. His children, again and again, over time, like the original refugees from the evil land of Egypt, scorned their Father’s wishes and His gifts, ignoring His instructions as set forth in His Torah. His children turned their back on their Father once too often. This time, our Father had enough. Our loving Father, Who did so much for us, His children, rightfully expecting us to respect His wishes, chose to teach us a lesson.
Subsequently, the Vilna Gaon explains, came the next – third – way in which G-d manifested His Divine Providence and does so until this day: hester panim. This manifestation began upon the nation’s exile from their land. From hereon, our Father in heaven hid his face from us and our ability to see His Divine Providence in the world became impaired. He effectively turned His back on us as we had so often done to Him. His people were banished from His Presence and He no longer deemed it fitting to have His Presence reside near them. He removed His home, the Bet HaMikdash, from amongst His ungrateful children.
However, He has not abandoned us. He is still our Father and we are still His children. As the great King David reminds us (Tehillim 94:14), “For G-d will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His heritage.” Our Father is still checking up on us. He is still mindful of us. As any good father, He has not forgotten us. He still cares for us. But it is we who cannot bask in His lovingness as we once did. It is we who cannot approach His Presence and regale in its beauty and grandeur as we once did. We can no longer enjoy the special relationship that we once enjoyed with our loving Father, a relationship the likes of which any child longs for with his parent. We once enjoyed a wonderful symbiotic relationship with our Father and He resided within close proximity. But, matters took a turn for the worse. We turned our back on our Father, and to discipline His children, He chose, in turn, to turn His back on us until the time that He would see that His children are ready to renew the relationship they once had.
Is this destruction of a unique relationship with our Father in heaven that we once had not worthy of sadness? Is our Father’s removing His home, the Bet HaMikdash, from among us, a home wherein we could visit our Father freely and bask in His radiance and be inspired by His grandeur and talk with Him not reason for sadness? We had a priceless relationship with our Father who answered His children’s needs from up close. He was always around, but we “blew it”. Now, He continues to “keep tabs”, but we do not readily feel His Presence. Our Father has not abandoned His children, but He has definitely turned His back on us. The destruction of the Bet HaMikdash and everything surrounding it marked an immense turn for the worse. Should this not be cause for extreme sadness – to this very day – until the wonderful day when our Father will see it fit to send His holy messenger, the messiah, and take us back into His arms? As any good child, should we not long for our Father to hug us once again?
It is this feeling of extreme sadness at losing the wonderful relationship that we once had before the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed that we mourn to this very day on the day that it was destroyed after we turned our backs on our Father one time too many – refusing to properly follow His instructions as set forth in His Torah – and on the day that our early ancestors turned their backs on their Father’s gift, the land of Israel, after the exodus from Egypt. It is this feeling of sadness and longing for its cessation that we express every day in our prayers: “And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may you rest within it, as You have spoken; may You rebuild it soon in our days as an eternal structure, and may You speedily establish the throne of David within it.”
How can we allow this to continue? Do we not want our Father back at our side? We made once a turn for the worse. It is time to make a turn for the better. We must turn back to our Father. We must follow His instruction and we must appreciate His gifts, His blueprint for life, the Torah, and His land and heritage, the land of Israel. We must embrace it and He will embrace us. We must reclaim our life and land, and G-d, our Father in heaven, will reclaim us.