On the eve of Tisha Be’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, we are called to reflect upon the destruction of the Temple, and the lessons it calls us to learn.
The Gemara ((Yoma 9b)) . teaches that the first Temple was destroyed on account of the grave sins of the nation, including idolatry, incest and murder. With regard to the Second Temple, however, the Gemara writes that the people were scholarly and righteous. Why, if so, was the Second Temple destroyed?
The Gemara replies: “Because there was baseless hatred amongst them. This teaches you that baseless hatred is weighed against the three cardinal sins: [namely] idolatry, incest, and murder.”
This statement deserves closer attention. Although the Torah instructs us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” ((Vayikra 19:18.)) and prohibits us from “hating our brother in your hearts,” (( Vayikra 19:17.)) the stringency of these mitzvos is a far cry from the three Cardinal Sins. How is it possible that the sin of baseless hatred is so severe, that the Temple was destroyed as a result?
The Unity of the Temple
The Maharal of Prague explains why baseless hatred led to the Destruction:
This matter is clear, in that the people of Israel are united by means of the Temple: There was one Kohen and one altar—for the external altars (bamos) were prohibited—to indicate that there was no division and disparity among Israel.
By means of the Temple, they are a single, complete nation. Accordingly, the [Second] Temple was destroyed on account of baseless hatred, which caused their hearts to be alienated, and they were divided. They were no longer worthy of the Temple, which is the unity of Israel. ((Netzach Yisrael Chap. 4.))
The Mikdash embodies the unity of the nation. During the Temple era there was “one Kohen and one altar”—the national service of Israel was focused on the single focal point of Jerusalem. The Temple was beis chayeinu, ((The expression is used in the blessing recited after the reading of the haftarah.)) the house where we all lived our spiritual lives.
Because of baseless hatred, because of division and disparity, the people were no longer worthy of the spiritual unity of the Temple. The Temple was destroyed, and the people exiled to the four corners of the earth.
Difference Between First and Second Temple
Why was this property, by which the continued standing of the Temple demanded the unity of the nation, special to the Second Temple alone?
The Gemara teaches that the Second Temple lacked a number of aspects that defined the First Temple. In the Second Temple, there was no Aron, no Kapores, and no Cheruvim. The Divine Fire that descended upon the altar of the First Temple was absent from the Second. There was no Shechinah in the Second Temple, no Divine Spirit, and no miraculous Urim Ve-Tumim. ((Yoma 21b.))
The differences can be easily summed up: In the First Temple the Divine Presence that dwelled therein was clear for all to see. In the Second Temple, there was nothing supernatural to discern.
As Maharal explains, this distinction is the key to understanding why the Second Temple was so sensitive to national unity. The strength of the First Temple was granted from Above; the force of the Second Temple was in the nation itself. The Temple was built on the foundation of the people.
The Shechinah Within
The purpose of the Temple is for the sake of housing the Shechinah. This purpose is stated by an explicit verse: “They shall build a Tabernacle for Me, and I shall dwell among them.” ((Shemos 25:8.)) How is this purpose achieved by the Second Temple, from which the Shechinah was absent?
The answer to this question emerges from a verse in Yirmiyah:
And it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says Hashem, they shall say no more: The ark of the covenant of Hashem; neither shall it come to mind; neither shall they make mention of it; neither shall they miss it; neither shall it be made any more. ((Yirmiyah 3:16.))
Although written as part of a group of verses that promises a glorious future redemption, the verse states that in future times, the lost Aron will no longer come to mind. Although the Aron was the very house of the Shechinah, the very place from which the Divine voice emerged, ((See Shemos 22:25.))
in future times it will not be missed.
Rashi explains the reason why: Instead of descending upon the Aron from above, the Shechinah will be present within the nation of Israel itself. The Aron will not be missed because there will no longer be a need for it. The Shechinah carried by the Aron will be carried by the people.
Although the Second Temple ultimately failed in fulfilling the promise of true redemption, its essence was equivalent to the Third Temple whose building we await. On Chanukah, when we celebrate the Second Temple, we pray: “Then I will complete, with a song of praise, the dedication of the altar.” ((From the Ma’oz Tzur song.))
The Second Temple was the precursor for the Third. The Shechinah was present, but its presence was latent in the people themselves, in the nation that built it.
Baseless Hatred and Cardinal Sins
We can thus explain that the comparison between the sin of baseless hatred, and the three Cardinal Sins, is not a direct comparison of particular stringency. The comparison, rather, relates specifically to the dire effect of sin.
The Shechinah that descended upon the Temple from Above, the revealed Presence of the First Temple, was banished by the grave sins of idolatry, incest, and murder. As Hashem declared of the generation of the Flood, “My spirit shall not abide in man forever, for that he also is flesh.” ((Bereishis 6:3.)) The Divine Spirit cannot descend upon a sinful generation.
The Shechinah that dwells among the nation, however, is banished specifically by the sin of baseless hatred. Even while sinful, in the wicked generation of Achav, the united nation was victorious in battle; ((Devarim Rabbah 5:9.)) the very union of Israel is a union of the Shechinah, and carries a great force.
Sins that harm the Shechinah descending from Above are technically more stringent that sins that target the Shechinah emerging from the nation below. The effect, however, is the same: the tragic destruction of the Temple.
Love and Chessed
Latent in the words of the above Gemara ((Yoma 9b.)) is a deeply pertinent lesson. The Gemara states that during the Second Temple era, the people were not only studious and righteous, but even “performed kindness with each other.” If baseless hatred was rife, how can it be that the people excelled even in performance of chessed?
We learn from the Gemara that this is indeed possible. Performance of kindness can be done with a heart full of love, and it can be done as a technical obligation, as an obligatory mitzvah without any inner feeling. Although the people excelled in chessed, they were guilty of sinas chinam. For this reason, the Temple was destroyed.
Today, we live in a generation where there is much (though of course, not enough…) Torah study and observance. Moreover, there is a wealth of chessed, acts of kindness performed by organizations and individuals alike. Yet, the time of Tisha Be’Av calls us to look inwards, to dwell not on actions, but on the heart.
Do we truly love, accepting, and desire the good of the ‘other’? With all the chessed we perform, do we truly fulfill the Torah instruction of loving our neighbor as ourselves?
The more we move towards ahavas chinam, towards love and true unity—the closer we come to revealing the Shechinah latent in the nation itself, and to the rebuilding of the Temple. May it come speedily, and in our days.