If King Zedekiah would have listened to Jeremiah...

The prophet was the realistic one.

Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism עיר דוד
עיר דוד

The Talmud traced the causes for the destruction of the First and Second temples to the spiritual failings and sins of the Jewish people. As those assessments are undoubtedly correct, they are observed in the popular view of the events to be the sole and only causes for these national tragedies.

However, it should be obvious to all that failed policies, false assessments of the military and diplomatic situations of the times and a certain amount of foolhardy bravado certainly were also involved in destruction of the First and Second Commonwealths.

In both instances the Jewish rulers of the times pursued irrational policies, in the mistaken belief that somehow they would prevail and that Heaven would overlook their mistakes and national sins. As is often the rule in human history, when caution and good sense are substituted for emotion and personal calculations, disasters are likely to follow.

And so it was in the case of our first two attempts at Jewish national sovereignty in the Land of Israel. There is no escape for good or for better, from the consequences of national behavior and of governmental policies. Though the supernatural is always present in human affairs, no policies or strategic decisions should be made on the basis of mystical interference with the consequences of behavior and governmental policies.

Faith in supernatural help is a basic idea in Judaism. However, Judaism teaches self-reliance, wise choices in life and in diplomacy, and a realistic and rational outlook on unfolding events and prevalent societal forces. Heaven helps the wise and astute.

The mighty empire of Babylonia destroyed the First Temple. It did so after a rash and wholly irrational decision by the Judean king to rebel against its authority and ally himself  and his small and weak country with Egypt, then the competing empire in the Middle East. This decision was opposed by the prophet Jeremiah. He warned the king and the people of the folly of this policy.

No one knows what would have been the result had the king listened to Jeremiah and not taken up arms against Babylonia. But no one can deny that the decision of the king to rebel was foolish. The prophet Jeremiah was certainly more practical and wise than the Judean king of his day. One would have thought that the prophet would have invoked the power of faith over the practicality and the reality of the situation. But that was certainly not the case.

The Jewish people then were simply unable to imagine that God, so to speak, would allow His own holy house to be destroyed. But the prophet warned them that they were mistaken in that belief and that disaster would follow their erroneous assessment of the situation. One of the bitter lessons of this period on the calendar is that practicality and wisdom are necessary in order to insure Jewish national survival. Faith in God is everything in Jewish life. But the faith must be founded on the realities of the world and the circumstances of life that surround us.

The same lesson is to be learned from the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. Realistically, the Jewish Commonwealth had no chance or ability to defeat the then mighty Roman Empire. The great rabbis of Israel at that time, almost to a man, opposed the war of rebellion against Rome. They foresaw defeat and disaster. The Zealots, who fomented and fought the rebellion to its ruinous conclusion, proclaimed loudly and often that somehow Heaven would bless their efforts and provide them with miraculous victory. Again, this was a disastrous miscalculation on their part.

As above, there is no one that can know what the Jewish story would have been like if the Zealots would not have mounted their ill-fated rebellion. But, we do know that their actions led to a long and painful exile for the Jewish people. Everything is in the hands of Heaven but without the human execution and participation, the will of Heaven is never executed on this earth.

So, the Jewish world in our time also needs a heavy dose of practicality and reality in order to translate our limitless faith into concrete achievements and goals.

Abandoning the worship of false idols, of immoral behavior and wanton murder, coupled with the mitigation of baseless hatred in our community are the spiritual and emotional weapons for our redemption.

Added to these is the requirement for hard realistic thinking, wise policies and tempered utopianism. May we all be comforted, both nationally and personally in this difficult time.