Parshios Devarim & The Three Weeks
Rebuilding the Temple
These are the things that Moshe told to all of the Jewish people on the
east side of the Jordan in the desert, in the plain opposite the Red Sea,
between Paran, and Tofel, and Lavan, Chatzerot, and Di Zahav, 11 days from
Chorev by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea. (Bamidbar 33:1- 2)
Thus begins Moshe Rabbeinu’s parting address to the Jewish nation that he
led for 40 years, and his summary of the major events that occurred during
that time until that point. However, it would be mistake to assume that he
was talking only to the Jewish people of that time, and not to all of the
generations that were destined to follow.
For, unfortunately, the grand plan for the Jewish people and Creation was
not actualized in Moshe Rabbeinu’s lifetime, and not since then, for that
matter. What the greatest prophet who ever lived began we are still trying
to conclude. Indeed, the Jewish people are a work in progress, which is
why, the Arizal explains, Moshe Rabbeinu reincarnates into each
generation, to finish the job he started (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20).
Just like you “don’t fix what aint broke,” you can’t fix what you don’t
know is broken. Yes, the Jewish people sinned here, and the Jewish people
sinned there. However, if we don’t understand the essence of what they did
wrong each time they erred, then how can we guarantee that we don’t
perpetuate the same errors, rather than rectify them?
This is what the Talmud means when it says that, “A generation in which
the Temple is not built is considered to be one in which it was
destroyed"(Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). For, the generation in which the error
that caused its destruction is corrected, is the generation in which the
temple will be rebuilt. Therefore, if the temple has not returned in a
specific generation, then it means that the error is still being made, and
that it would cause the destruction of the temple in that generation, if
it was still standing.
Conversely, the Talmud states, “If one has dayah, it is as if the Temple
was rebuilt in his time” (Brochos 33a). For, it is dayah that allows one
to see truth, recognize error, and appreciate the importance of correcting
it. With dayah, a person can rise to the level of spiritual awareness and
perfection that can, eventually, result in the return of the Temple.
Well, it is about to be Tisha B’Av, 5768. It is 1,938 years since the
destruction of the Second Temple, and 2,430 years since the destruction of
the First Temple, which the Second Temple never really replaced. And, not
only has the temple not returned to its holy abode, but its holy spot is
being occupied by an enemy, while the Jewish people show little if any
movement in the direction of rebuilding it.
Indeed, 80 percent of world Jewry is assimilated, and over 50 percent is
intermarried, while those who still adhere to a Torah lifestyle are mostly
concerned about personal local issues and needs. Even when outreach is
done, it focuses little on the reality of the temple, or our role in
bringing about the Final Redemption having the Temple returned to us.
It is not being rebuilt in our time.
Therefore, it is as if it is destroyed in our time.
So, isn’t it about time to sit down and ponder what, after over three
millennia of history, is missing from the Jewish people?
Since the Talmud makes a strong connection between the sin of the Spies,
and Tisha B’Av itself (Ta’anis 29a), it is as good a place as any to get
to the bottom of the matter. Understanding the essence of their sin will
reveal to us the essence of our sin, and why the Temple has not returned
until this very day.
As Rashi points out, the Torah twice mentions the departure of the Spies
on their mission, the second time to inform us that, just as they returned
with bad advice, so too had they left with bad advice (Bamidbar 13:26).
However, one could argue, what difference does it make when the Spies went
bad? The bottom line is that, when they returned to give their report to
Moshe and the nation, they spoke badly about Eretz Yisroel and weakened
the resolve of the people to go up and conquer the land.
After all, they could have changed their minds about what they were going
to say to the people upon their return, between the time they had departed
and the time they had returned, a dozen times. Would it have mattered? The
important thing is that, at the moment of truth, when they stood before
the Jewish nation, which waited with baited breath to hear their report,
they said the wrong thing.
The answer to that question is also in Rashi. As Rashi points out, one of
the very complaints they had about the Land of Canaan, that “the land
swallows its inhabitants” (Bamidbar 13:32) had been arranged God to their
advantage. He had arranged for the Canaanites to be too pre-occupied with
burying their dead to chase down a few strangers investigating their land,
a blessing for the Spies to be sure.
Yet, the Spies did not notice the wonderful Divine Providence in that, but
rather, instead, saw it as a curse of the land. What God had intended to
be a blessing for them they perceived as a curse, as a reason to not go up
and claim their destined inheritance. Rather than see an opportunity to
fulfill the prophecy given to Avraham Avinu hundreds of years before, they
chose instead to block it, begging the question: How could they have been
The answer is, as Rashi alludes, the attitude with which they left to
perform their mission. Indeed, explains Rashi, the verse is telling us
that what they said on the way back was completely a function of what they
thought on the way there, long before they had even seen the land. For,
perception is a function of assumption, and their incorrect assumptions
about life as a Jew and in Eretz Yisroel meant that they could only
perceive reality one way, and it caused them to see God’s blessing as a
What assumption had they incorrectly made? They had assumed that the ideal
life which they enjoyed in the desert was the ideal way for a Jew, who
wants to serve God, to live. That is why they could reject the land right
before God and not be afraid of Divine retribution. They had assumed that
God would read their hearts and see that it was their drive to learn Torah
unhampered by the menial concerns of daily survival that had brought them
to that point, and that He would praise them for it.
How shocked were they when they found out that, not only did God not
praise them, but rather, He cursed them instead. Then, and only they did
they wake up and realize how that had not been on the same page of God as
they had previously assumed. However, by that time, even though
retroactively they saw everything differently, it was too late to do
anything about the situation, and they died in the desert instead.
As the rabbis point out, on Yom HaDin, God will only have to say, “I am
God,” and we will fall back, as Yosef’s brothers did when he revealed
himself to them, speechless. Why? Because “I am God” means that God will
reveal to us each and every time He tried to direct us through the events
and people in our lives, and how we just ignored the significance of both.
How many times have we ignored Hashgochah Pratis, passing up opportunities
for growth, and perhaps, on some occasions, even freedom, because we lack
the eyes to see it for what it is?
Well, first of all, there had been the 12,000,000 Jews who died in the
Plague of Darkness, because they had ignored Hashgochah Pratis and chose
to remain in Egypt instead. Then later on, there had been the Spies, who
had mocked Yehoshua and Caleiv, choosing instead to remain in the desert
rather than take the land that had been meant for them since Creation.
And, who knows how many countless others have followed in the same crooked
footsteps, and suffered similar fates as well?
Therefore, Hashgochah Pratis inserted the word “eichah” into this week’s
parsha (Devarim 1:12), the future Yirmiyahu’s lamentation about the fall
of the Jewish people and the destruction of the Temple. It is also a word
whose letters are the same as the word “aiyekah” which God asked to Adam
HaRishon after he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil — words
whose gematrios are 36 — the number that refers to the light of Hashgochah
It means only one thing: the events of history are a function of
Hashgochah Pratis, but the perception of them are completely a function of
our own assumptions about life. Just because we perceive reality a certain
way does not mean that is the way it actually exists. It is possible to
live day-to-day with the wrong assumptions about life, and get by, until
truth overtakes them and we have a rude awakening.
How can one be sure about their perception of reality? Check out your
assumptions about life, about Torah, about Jewish history, etc. False
assumptions result in false perceptions, and false perceptions result in
an acute inability to read the “writing on the wall” that God leaves
behind for us in order to know what He wants from us at any given point in
time, personally, or nationally.
Correct your assumptions and you correct your perceptions, and you gain
the invaluable ability of being able to speak God’s language and
understand His messages. Tisha B’Av is the day on which we are asked to do
this, in order to avoid adding another reason, God forbid, to make the
ninth of Av the national day of mourning that it has become.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.