Jerusalem fell. Twice. What should these days of fasting and remembrance mean to us?
Consider this millennia-old question: Al ma avda haaretz? How did the land come to be destroyed? Historians are quick to say that the two exiles were natural—how could little Israel have resisted Assyria, Babylonia, and Rome? And they are right. It wasn’t the downfall that was miraculous—the real miracle was the existence of Judea for more than a thousand years.
But why did Hashem not save them from Babylon and Rome? This question seems superficial, as the causes for His anger are well-known. Long before the destruction began, Moshe predicted “Vayishman Yeshurun vayiv’at.” But why? How did we emerge from a centuries-long school of suffering too weak to withstand the test of good fortune?
Hashem answers: “Because they abandoned the Torah I set before them.” They still occupied themselves with it, saw it as a blessing—butto them, the Torah was merely one of their possessions, just another one of the things with which they occupied themselves. It was just another task they had to accomplish in life. It was just another blessing to give thanks for. To them it was not the greatest possession of all; in their minds, it took no precedence over their other possessions.
The Talmud tells us that Israel was exiled because they did not say a bracha before learning. Why is this so serious? They approached Torah the way they approached any subject, as a science like any other. So they learned—but it’s easy to err when the bracha is missing.
In studying Torah, our desire should be to benefit G-d’s Cause on earth, not our own vanity. We should learn in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the One “Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us to occupy ourselves with words of Torah!” The spirit of this bracha leads to the Torah, and the Torah brings us closer to our great goal—there is no inherent value in learning it otherwise. When the bracha leads to the Torah, we feel commitment, for if we show the slightest disloyalty to our mission, the words we learned would reproach: “You knew Me, and nevertheless you left Me!”
With this bracha in mind, there will be no gap between theory and practice, between learning and yiras shamayim. The hearts of those learning and teaching Torah will have only one wish: vehaarev na, make the Torah sweet, so its spirit penetrates the people.
In remembering Jerusalem’s fall, we can elevate ourselves, to make knowledge of the Torah once more our own—as long as this knowledge is cultivated only in the spirit of the Birchas Hatorah. This spirit, whose absence paved the way for Jerusalem’s fall, will cause it to rise again.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Director, Ani Maamin Foundation
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Please note: This “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s collected writings, with permission from the publisher.