Parshios Devarim & The Three Weeks
This year, Tisha B’Av is on Shabbos itself, causing the fast day to be
pushed off until Sunday. Shabbos is normal, for the most part, at least
until Chatzos, the halachic mid-point of the day, at which time some
limitations do apply to acknowledge that, if it wasn’t for Shabbos, it would
be Tisha B’Av in every respect.
It is well known that the Talmud states that if the Temple does not get
rebuilt in a particular generation, it is as if it was destroyed in that
generation (Ta’anis 29a). That’s quite an incrimination and condemnation of
every generation since the destruction itself occurred. After all, it would
seem easier to lose what you already have than to get back what has since
been lost, especially hundreds, and then thousands of years later. Is the
Talmud to be taken literally?
The question is predicated on a faulty assumption. It presumes that each
subsequent generation has to work just as hard as the previous one to bring
back the Temple, when in fact, this is not true. For the statement of the
Talmud to be true, one of two realities has to be true: Either each
generation remains as spiritually capable as its predecessor, or the demands
on any given generation have to be relative to its declining spiritual stature.
It works the same way in families as well. A parent can have several
children, each with varying degrees of intelligence and spiritual
sensitivity. A fair parent will not expect the same level of accomplishment,
in terms of results, from each child. Rather, he will only expect each child
to try his best to be successful according to his own personal level of
ability, even though the results of one child, in the end, will be less than
the results of another. This is what the rabbis mean when they say:
According to the effort is the reward. (Pirkei Avos 5:26)
In other words, impact on history is a relative thing, but personal effort
is an absolute value, since it is concerned only with the person in his or
her own world. Any evaluation of the person is relative only to his
abilities, which can include everything from natural talents to family
situations, to upbringing and to potential strength of will. The only
comparison that can be made between one person and another, and even one
generation and another, is this.
The implication of this is staggering. It means that, as distant a reality
as the last Temple is, and as much as we have spiritually descended compared
to the generations before us, nevertheless, the return of the Temple would
be possible in our time if we only focused on what we, in our generation,
can do to convince God that we deserve it. The lack of such a focus may be
the reason why we are undergoing certain political difficulties, which, from
a Divine Providence point of view, may be to force us to focus on such
I think that there is a similar example of this idea in recent history. The
fact that it is hard for many to swallow does not negate its truth.
When the modern State of Israel was formed, it was rejected by many Orthodox
groups as being counter-redemption for the simple reason that such a holy
goal could never be achieved by such an unholy people, that is, by secular
Jews, many of whom rejected Torah Judaism. If anything, their
accomplishments were the work of the Sitra Achra, the impure force within
In the meantime, they have fought war after war with miraculous success,
against all of the odds, while at the same time building up the country in
every direction, with minimal natural resources. Even the Torah world has
grown significantly under its rulership, even receiving unprecedented
funding from a government that many, on principle, have rejected. Sixty-four
years later, the miracle continues, and many are hard pressed to continue to
attribute their success to the force of impurity (though many parts of their
lifestyle certainly fit the bill).
As a result, retroactively, some Orthodox Jews have changed their view of
what happened back in 1948, in a favorable direction, raising the question
once again, how could such an important part of the Final Redemption come
about through such seemingly spiritually unworthy proponents of the Jewish
The truth is, one good, hard look at Jewish history and it will be clear
that it often has, if only because Jewish history needed it at that time,
and they were in the right place at the right time. The same thing could be
said about the secular Zionists, who in 1948, after the Holocaust, had been
the only ones really pushing for an independent Jewish homeland, who were
willing to bear the wrath of the world to establish it, and were prepared to
do whatever was physically necessary to build up the land.
For all we know, that is all God needed from Jews at that time to warrant
giving them the land at that time. For all we know, given their background
and experience, and perhaps, even their gilgulim—reincarnations—that is all
God expected from them, to make them worthy of being that particular link in
the redemption-chain. From Orthodox Jews, trying to accomplish the same
thing, He may have expected more, and the more just didn’t surface at the time.
However, though their desire to re-build a Jewish homeland, and the
willingness to drain the swamps to do it, may have been enough to be the
vehicle to initiate the third commonwealth, it is not enough, obviously, to
warrant the completion of the redemption, and the Third Temple. They may
have wanted the land, but they certainly hadn’t wanted the Temple, and all
that it represents.
But, apparently, neither has the Orthodox world, sufficiently. We may never
be able to mourn the loss of the Temple as the generation that actually lost
it, or even on the level of Jews from a couple generations ago, but if we
could only do on our own potential level, it would be enough to have it
returned to us. The only question is: What is sufficient enough for our
The answer to this question comes in a roundabout way.
Someone, upon asking his doctor after his diagnosis, why he fell ill, was
told, “You’re asking me why you’re sick? Why don’t you instead ask me why
you’re not sick more often! Given the multitude of failures that could occur
in the body at any given moment in time, and the countless miracles
necessary to keep them from occurring throughout one’s life, it is wonder
that people aren’t deadly ill all the time!”
It is a brilliant answer, and illustrates just how backwards our approach to
life can be. The one asking the question had assumed, wrongly so, that
health is a natural right of every human being, and so he resented being
ill. He was told, in response, that personal health is actually a huge
miracle, and that he should be grateful, instead, for whatever amount of it
We tend to approach life in very much the same manner. We assume that peace
and success are the natural order of the day, and when we lack either, we
wonder why and become somewhat resentful. The truth really is that chaos is
the natural order of Creation, and that when we experience it in only small
amounts, we should be grateful, given how bad it could really get based upon
the effort we make to keep it at bay (Shabbos 88a). We have seen just how
overwhelming chaos can be in history.
As a result, for some, when they arise in the morning to thank God for being
able to start a new day, they do it half-heartedly, knowing the difficulties
that have to face that day and in the future. Only a few might actually
marvel at the fact that they actually woke up for another day, and are able
to crawl out of bed before beginning a whole host of other daily activities.
They feel little or no sense of entitlement, and therefore, only gratitude
when it comes to daily life.
The difference between the two attitudes to life may seem marginal, but in
truth, it is what stands in the way of the Temple returning in any given
generation. And, it is a problem that stretches all the way back to the
first destruction, not of the First Temple, but of the first man. For, as
Rashi points out, when Adam blamed God for his sin because He had created
Chava, he denied the good that God had done for him, and subsequently lost
the right to stay in the Garden of Eden.
Hence, the main theme of Eichah, which we read on Tisha B’Av, is how we fell
from grace. How could we have had it so good, and lost it? How could we have
been so high, and fallen so low? How could we have been so protected, and
yet become so vulnerable? How could we have built a House for God, and then
allow it to become destroyed?
On a smaller scale, we have watched it happen to individuals who have gone
from rags to riches, only to do scandalous things and undo so much of their
success. So, we scratch our heads in wonderment and ask, “Why?” As if
talking to them, we say, “You had it so good! Why didn’t you just leave well
enough alone and instead go out in a blaze of glory, instead of a blaze of
The answer is simple, and tragically, so human. We ask the question because,
lacking their success, we appreciate what they have accomplished. While
asking the question, we’d be ever so grateful and thankful to receive what
they have already received, but since, have taken it for granted. By
forgetting how much of a gift their success has been, especially when it has
been the result of fortuitous circumstances, such as natural abilities, they
put themselves on a path to losing some or all of it.
In a generation of increased entitlement, in a world in which so much
materialism is available at affordable prices, and so many people seem to
own so much, it is very easy to belong to the half-empty cup society. It is
so easy to feel resentment in this generation, and so easy to stop
appreciating the miracle of life, since so much distraction exists to focus
us elsewhere. And where goes appreciation of life goes appreciation of the
Source of life, and where goes the appreciation of the Source of Life goes
the Bais HaMikdosh—the Temple.
The Three Weeks come to help us get back on the appreciation track. They are
supposed to remind us that this is a not a world of entitlement, and that
chaos lurks around every corner ready to pounce on mankind at any moment,
and would do so if God did not help us keep it at bay (Kiddushin 30b). They
are supposed to snap us out of the illusion that makes us discontent with
our portion, since other people have more than us. Culminating in Tisha
B’Av, the period snaps us back into reality, making us ever so grateful for
the gift of life, and for the gifts that we have in life, and therefore, to
the One from which they come.
If enough of us do that enough of the time, based upon our ability and
opportunity to do so, then we can be the generation to witness the greatest
accomplishment of history to date, not even achieved by previous
generations: The Final Redemption, and the Final Temple, may it happen
quickly in our time.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.