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The Lesson of The Destruction
We are the “victims” not of some irrational, inexorable fate, but of our own failure to amend our ways.

We are the “victims” not of some irrational, inexorable fate, but of our own failure to amend our ways.


The spiritual destruction of the Temple was not a sudden event; it proceeded one stage after the other to a tragic climax of death, destruction, and disaster.

In commemoration of each stage, we observe an annual fast, four in all.  As a result, the Jewish calendar is marked not only by days of rejoicing, but also by days of mourning, repentance, introspection and rebuilding.  These days mark the difficult events that let up to the loss of the First and Second Temples and the two-thousand year exile in which we now find ourselves.  These four special days were established by the prophets.  Our Sages have instructed us to observe them as fast days.  Each of them commemorates another stage in the process that led up to the total destruction of the Temple.

On the tenth of Teves, the siege around the city walls of Jerusalem began.  Just over five months later, on the seventeenth of Tammuz, the inner wall of Jerusalem was breached, and on the Ninth of Av, both the First and the Second Temples were destroyed.  The final blow to Jewish independence fell two months later, with the assassination of Gedalyah ben Achikam, the last Jewish leader living in the Holy Land.  His death effectively put an end to the contemporary Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.

If we review the Jewish calendar, we will find that those historical events which made a positive contribution to our people and their spiritual advancement are marked by a single commemoration.  For instance, Passover, which marks the Exodus from Egypt, Shavuos, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah, and Sukkos, when we recall how G-d sheltered our nation during forty years' sojourn in the wilderness.  Similarly, Chanukah marks our victory over the Greeks, and Purim, our rescue from the wicked plot of our arch-enemy, Haman.

In striking contrast, we find that the Sages set aside four separate fast days to commemorate the destruction of the Temples.  Why should this be so?

Before we answer, let us make a distinction between two types of disasters which may befall us.  Occasionally, we hear of a traffic accident, an airplane crash, or other tragedy, which no one might have foreseen, and no one might have averted.  However, more frequently, we learn of tragedies which might have been prevented by adequate foresight or preparation.  A child plays with dangerous cleaning fluids which should not have been within his reach; a car with bad breaks is involved in a road accident, or, even worse, the driver had one drink too many before sliding into his seat behind the steering wheel.

Usually, the oversight is insubstantial at first: "I just left the glass of milk there for a minute while I answered the door," says a young mother.  The glass may be broken, her clean floor dirtied, but nothing worse.  A minor oversight, followed by a minor mishap.

But the process continues.  Perhaps next time, it's a sharp knife instead of a glass of milk.  The child hurts himself, but after a week or two, his wound heals.

The next time, it might be a box of matches.  This time the consequences may well be significant, if not disastrous.

Even when the negligence is relatively minor, causing only insignificant damage, the prudent individual, the one who looks ahead and foresees the long-term consequences of his actions, will not underestimate the problem.  To the contrary, he will relate to it while it is still relatively small, and therefore, easy to remedy.  He will not rest until the situation is rectified.

In contrast, the indolent and the idle prefer to ignore such events.  They have ears and eyes only for the pleasures of the moment.  Such a person tends to quell any pangs of conscious by telling himself that it was nothing of consequence; he carries on as usual.

Consequently, it will not occur to such person to change his conduct even an iota.  He is stuck in a rut, and continues to run along his chosen course, unchanged.  With time, what started out as mild negligence continues to gather steam; eventually, it mushrooms into a significant character fault.

The pattern continues.  Events gather momentum, until the advent of a “near disaster” – Heaven’s stop sign that warns us of imminent, grave dangers ahead.

However, someone who has become addicted to a life of “creature comforts”, designer amenities, or fleeting pleasures, will find himself trapped.  It is difficult for him to cope with the prospect of having to make changes in his lifestyle that will infringe on his enjoyment of life here in this world.  He may prefer to close his eyes to the dangers lurking further along the road rather than change his route.

“It will all work out in the end,” he assures himself.  “Everything will be fine.”

Even when the handwriting appears on the wall, and everyone knows in his heart that the end is near, he continues to ignore the warnings, whether from laziness or from despair of saving himself from the imminent disaster.  So far as his limited vision is able to perceive, there is no hope for salvation.  All is lost.  As he sees the situation, there is no way to avert the danger.  He refuses to see the connection between his own character faults and the calamities that threaten him.

The four fast days teach us that the destruction was definitely not inevitable.  It might have been averted.  The Temple was destroyed as the final step of a long, drawn-out process that encompassed multiple stages.   For years and years before the Temple ultimately fell, Israel’s prophets had been castigating the people and predicting the loss of the nation’s holiest site, but no one wanted to believe that it could really happen.

Heaven waited and watched: would we repent?

But Heaven does not wait forever.  When the last grain of sand had fallen through the narrows of the hourglass, Heaven unleashed the Rome’s forces of destruction.  The Romans threatened to attack, and laid siege to Jerusalem.

Even then, had the nation repented, it would not have been too late.  Heaven would have arranged for the vast legions camped around the city to retreat, leaving Jerusalem in peace.  It could have happened, had we only read the handwriting on the wall correctly and taken the appropriate steps to improve our ways.

But those who merited living in Israel’s unique capital city, in the shadow of the Temple Mount, could not imagine that the threat was real.  To their minds, it was not conceivable that their sacred city might one day fall into the impure hands of the enemy.  They continued to live their lives without change, and the Temple was lost.

Each year we again recall the destruction of the Temple and the wounds which it inflicted, and have not yet healed.   As we traverse the cycle of the calendar year, each time we arrive at a juncture which marks another step closer to the fall of the Temple, we observe a fast day.  In this way we hope to enhance our capacity to reflect on the spiritual and to correct the flaws which brought disaster upon us.

This form of commemoration has within it the very seeds of consolation and comfort. It assures us that we still have the option to amend our ways and to improve our lot.  The Temple has been razed, but there is yet hope for the future.  We are the “victims” not of some irrational, inexorable fate, helplessly and hopelessly doomed to suffer, but of our own failure to amend our ways.

Even at the most advanced stage of our tragedy, when the enemy already seems to have gained the upper hand, if we are wise enough to rise above the situation, and improve ourselves spiritually, we are assured of our nation’s salvation.

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