We are approaching the 9th Ab, the day of National Mourning, for the Jewish people. In the next emails, I would like to share with you the history of the events that led to the destruction of the First and the Second Bet haMiqdash. Thus, by understanding what happened, we can observe our grief in a more meaningful way, learning how to amend the mistakes of our ancestors through our Teshuba.
The first Bet haMiqdash, Holy Temple of Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 586 before the common era, over 2600 years ago.
Our Sages explained that the enemies of Israel were like the rod with which HaShem punished the people of Israel for their transgressions. Therefore, when we fast in memory of the destruction of the Bet-haMiqdash, we do not do that just to remember the military battles or to feel resentment against the ancient enemy, but more than anything else to make us aware of our collective responsibility in these events. Why? Because our Tora and our Hakhamim taught us that the enemy could never have destroyed our Temple, if the Presence of HaShem would not have left it. And they also taught us that the Presence of HaShem would move away from us , when we move away from Him and His Tora, becoming exposed and vulnerable to the enemy.
Our sages told us that the first Bet-haMiqdash was destroyed for three main reasons: the Yehudim of that generation were worshipping idols and other gods (Aboda Zara ). Crime, murder (shefikhut damim) and sexual promiscuity (guilui arayot) was also prominent in those generations.
HaShem sent his representatives, the Nebiim or prophets, to warn the Jewish people, and show them that they were going in the wrong way. The Prophets spoke to the people and made them aware of “God’s point of view.” They denounced injustice and warned that if the Yehudim would persist in their evil way, HaShem was going to move away from them, and they would be delivered in the hands of very powerful, savage and merciless enemies. But the Jewish people, unfortunately, did not listen to the Prophets … and thus the destruction of the Bet-haMiqdash became almost inevitable.
In the last years of the first Bet-haMiqdash, the Prophet who stood out was Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah). He lived in the reign of Yoshiyahu, of Jehoiakim, his son Joyakhín and the last king of Judah: Tsidqiyahu.
We present below a brief example of his words to the people, which would show us the moral state of the Judean society .
First, the prophet Yirmiyahu warns the king and the people about the consequences of what they were doing:
Yirmiyahu, Chapter 22:1-13 “Thus said HaShem … Practice justice and righteousness, save the oppressed from the oppressor, do not humiliate or mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows, do not shed innocent blood. … If you will do this, which I command you, I will maintain the Kings who would occupy the throne of David… but if you ignore these warnings,this palace will be in ruins.”
In the following profound text, Yirmiyahu addresses the King Jehoiakim and the wealthy people of the city, denouncing two things: First, the abuses committed against the poor, and second, the excessive materialism the rich and the nobility practiced. It is fascinating to observe that Yirmiyahu did not criticize comfort per-se, the Prophet did not advocate a vow of poverty. Rather, he indicated that material comfort should not be a goal in itself, and should not replace spiritual aspirations.
In Chapter 22: 13-17 he said “Woe to you, those who build their mansions with injustice, who make others work without paying their salaries … you say, “I will build for myself a great palace with spacious rooms, open windows… and cedar walls … Do you think that being a King consists in living surrounded by cedar? Your ancestors [the previous King of Yehuda, i.e., David haMelekh] enjoyed a [comfortable] life, but [he also] acted with justice and righteousness, and did well … defending the poor and the oppressed … that’s what I consider knowing Me … but you, you only care for ill-gotten gains… you let the innocent die, and you oppress and exploit your own people. “