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THE THREE WEEKSAdapted from taped shmuezim by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.
Concerning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, and the ensuing exile of the Jewish people, the verses state: (Yirmiyahu 9:11-12) "Who is the wise man, that understands this? To whom has the mouth of Hashem spoken, that he may declare: Why does the land perish and is burned up like a wilderness, that none passes through? Then Hashem answered, It is because they have forsaken my Torah which I set before them..."
The Talmud explains. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: The Sages were asked, "Why does the land perish?" but could not answer. The prophets also were unable to answer. Finally, Hashem Himself answered: "It is because they have forsaken my Torah which I set before them," meaning - they did not make a bracha on Torah Study first. (Baba Metzia 85 a-b)
This gemara is extremely difficult to understand. If we take the gemara literally, the terrible Churban occurred because they didn't make a bracha before learning the Torah. That is very hard to accept. Why should they receive such a harsh punishment for not making a bracha? Granted, they were not acting correctly. Bircas Hatorah is a mitzvah from the Torah. But the punishment seems way too severe. The non-performance of a mitzvas asei (positive commandment) doesn't warrant such a harsh penalty. So what's the alternative? Perhaps it means they didn't learn at all. That also can't be. The great gedolim of the generation were asked, and couldn't answer. Even the holy prophets couldn't see any reason for such a terrible calamity. If we say simply that they weren't learning, it would have been obvious, they had forsaken the holy Torah!
So therefore, we must say that indeed, they were learning. There was a great deal of Torah study going on during the time of the First Beis Hamikdash. And they made the bracha for learning Torah. No problem was noticeable. However, the gemara adds a word, "they did not make a bracha on Torah Study first."
Upon consideration, the word first seems the wrong choice of terminology, it should have said "before learning." "First" has a different connotation.
"Why did the land perish? Because they did not make a bracha on Torah study first." Of course they recited Bircas Hatorah. But they were lacking the "first."
When you go to a Gadol to get a bracha for a child what does he put first? "You should grow to be a great talmid chachom, with yiras shomayim and midos tovos." Then he adds, "Zol zein gezunt, be healthy and successful." When we give brachos what's our order? "I give you a bracha for health and wealth and happiness. Hashem should help you to become rich and successful." As an afterthought we add, "Be a lamdan, a talmid chachom, and have Yiddishe nachas."
This flaw in the "first" was a sign that they were lacking the proper spiritual foundation. Torah is the spiritual inheritance of Klal Yisroel. All the brachos come from Torah. But we must approach Torah properly. It's not just another intellectual discipline like literature or science. Torah is the source of ruchnius. Baruch Hashem, we learn, we become talmidei chachomim, and we become great in Torah. Is it because of all the toil and sweat we put in? Of course hard work is a prerequisite. But in the end the Torah is a gift from Heaven. If one doesn't recognize that, his "first" is flawed.
Eretz Yisroel is that land with the special quality that enhances Torah and Mitzvos. The Torah learned in Eretz Yisroel is a different sort of Torah. The Ramban (Vayikra 18:28) states that even the mitzvos cannot be fully performed except in Eretz Yisroel. Eretz Yisroel is the land where Klal Yisroel can attain a true deveikus with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. But we weren't living on the land "before Hashem"; there was a blemish in our "first." This created a separation from the pure relationship they should have had with the Ribono Shel Olam and the spiritual Eretz Yisroel, and so they couldn't hold on to it.
The destruction of the land was not a punishment. It was the natural result of their weak connection. They put the material before the spiritual, the gashmius before the ruchnius. "We conquered the land; we won the battles; this is our land!" That's not Eretz Yisroel, that's a different country somewhere in chutz le'aretz. With that attitude, they had no right to hold on to Eretz Yisroel.
Golus from Eretz Yisroel or from Klal Yisroel?
(This next section was said in Eretz Yisroel by Rav Zeidel in 2004. It is unfortunately even more relevant today.)
Morai v'Rabbosai. We live in a time when it's appropriate to stand back and think about what is going on around us. Everyone is complaining about this meshugener Rabin giving everything away! Really, Hashem's great mercy is directing him. It is very possible that we, Klal Yisroel, don't deserve to live here anymore. Perhaps we deserve golus, chas v'sholom. But Hashem Yisborach, in His great wisdom, understands what golus is and what dangers and tragedies lie in wait there. So He found a different way. Instead of taking his people out of the land, He is taking the land away from His people. When they take pieces of Eretz Yisroel away from Klal Yisroel this is a warning, Hashem is speaking to us. "Dear Yidden, you know I love you. But what can I do? Eretz Yisroel can't handle this. Eretz Yisroel requires kedusha, holiness and purity. We have to strengthen our kedusha, strengthen our connection to the holy Torah, daven better with more kavanah. He wants us to come to the realization that we need the kedusha of Eretz Yisroel. But the first step has to come from us. Better learning, better davening, better midos, better bein adam lechaveiro. We have to show the Ribono Shel Olam that Eretz Yisroel is our life, our spiritual life, our source of Torah; it means everything to us.
It's clear to me, concluded Rav Zeidel, that the Ribono Shel Olam wants us to remain in Eretz Yisroel and doesn't want to give it to the goyim. But He wants the Yidden to be Yidden as they should be. The voices that are calling out to give back Eretz Yisroel are really calling to us to wake-up. The Ribono Shel Olam is talking to us, my dear Yidden. The situation is so bad, you're about to lose Eretz Yisroel. It's now up to you. Do you want, or not? It's up to you.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
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