Sensitivity and silence: The Three Weeks

There will always be some talent, skill, or natural characteristics that I can appreciate in another if I look at him with a favorable eye.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles ,

Learning in Neve (illustrative)
Learning in Neve (illustrative)
Neve
Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Our Sages tell us that in every generation that the Beit Hamikdosh is not rebuilt, it is as if the Beit Hamikdosh was again destroyed. Since the Beit Hamikdosh has not yet been rebuilt, it behooves us to explore the reasons for its destruction so that we can rectify our ways and hasten the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of our Mikdosh. As Megillat Eichah says, we must examine our ways and do the work necessary to achieve that goal.

Our Sages teach that the first Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed for the three cardinal sins, idol worship, sexual immorality, and spilling blood. In contrast, the second Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed because of baseless hatred among the people even though the people were meticulous in their mitzvah observance.

Rabbi Reiss points out that we can extrapolate that interpersonal relationship and “social” mitzvoth observance are greater than the mitzvoth between man and God. Further, Rabbi Reiss explains, mitzvah observance can be a brilliant veneer covering a deep corruption of inner character. Baseless hatred of others grows from a sense of arrogance that infects even acts of kindness. For, notes Rabbi Reiss, if one has carved out a niche of chesed, say operating a food gemach, the arrogant individual would feel slighted by someone opening such an additional food pantry. He would feel his own honor is being diminished, and he would begin hating the second individual, irrespective of the common good. Our challenge comes in finding ways to repair this character flaw.

The period between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av is known as Bein Hamitzorim/Between the Narrow, confining places/times. The phrase itself comes from Megillah Eichah where the Prophet Yirmiyahu laments that the enemy caught Yisroel bein hamitzorim.

Rabbi Shaul Chanan citing the Kli Yakar, suggests that the source for this term is in the first verse of Sefer Devarim. In reviewing the journey from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisroel, Moshe recounts that Bnei Yisroel traveled bein Paran uvein Tofel/between Paran and between Tofel. It would have been simpler to say that they traveled from Paran to Tofel. What is being taught through using this redundant, superfluous word between?

In Toras Chesed, Rabbi Chanan quotes the Kli Yakar, who suggests that these two places mark the sites of the two major sins of that generation, the sin of the spies sent from Paran and the sin of the golden calf, something tofel/worthless, empty and nothing, as is all worship of false gods promoted by false prophets. These two sins serve as brackets for the period identified as The Three Weeks/Bein Hamitzorim. Our first Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed for the same sin as that of the golden calf, serving false gods, while our Second Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed for the sin of the spies.

What exactly was the sin of the spies? We are told that they spoke negatively/loshon horo about the land they were about to enter, causing fear in the people until they slandered Hashem Himself, saying, “Because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the Land of Egypt…” The seed of baseless hatred had now been planted in Bnei Yisroel in their slander of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, projecting their own hatred of each other onto Him. Moshe need do no more than allude to the various points of strife and baseless hatred that continued to arise within Bnei Yisroel throughout the journey and, unfortunately continues today.

As we can see from the spies, the root of baseless hatred lay in a lack of faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu, writes the Vilna Gaon. Therefore, we can deduce that a person with faith but with few mitzvoth is greater than the one who observes mitzvoth faithfully, but without the inner faith that should animate that observance. With deep faith, one believes that everything comes from Hashem. One will cease envying someone for having more than you or disliking someone for a perceived wrong against you. It is all Hashem’s doing.

Baseless hatred starts with a negative eye, from judging people and things negatively, as the spies judged the land. To counter this tendency, Rabbi Chanan urges us to become humble by practicing the use of a “good eye,” of judging everyone favorably. If we can see that every person has some trait in which he surpasses me, we will not come to denigrate him. Since we are all different, there will always be some talent, skill, or natural characteristics that I can appreciate in another if I look at him with a favorable eye. Focus on the positive rather than on the one negative that annoys or troubles you.

While the Chofetz Chaim sees the root of sinat chinom/baseless hatred as lying in a person’s negative eye, with the offshoot, loshon haro, and the Vilna Gaon sees it in a lack of faith, Rabbi Chanan suggests that the two are closely connected. It starts with the lack of faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu which leads to viewing people and things with a negative perspective and results in loshon horo. When a person lacks faith in Hashem, he is forced to rely only upon himself, obviously leading to hating anyone with whom he may have some difficulty or a disagreement.

If it’s always all about me, I begrudge everyone else everything. Further, I will not come to anyone’s defense if they are being wronged. Not only do I not want to get involved, but I get angry that my calm and serene surroundings were being disturbed. It was this attitude, continues Rabbi Chanan, that kept all the dignitaries and lay people from speaking up to allow Bar Kamtza to preserve his dignity by staying at the party he had erroneously been invited to. It was this incident that led Bar Kamtza, in an act of absolute evil speech, to falsely tell Emperor Nero that the Jews were plotting against Rome and would refuse to offer Roman sacrifices to Hashem. Bar Kamtza then injured the lip of the sacrificial lamb so that it would be rejected, and Roman forces were called up against Israel. In an ironic twist, it was the mouth of the animal that was unacceptable, like the mouths of people who speak loshon horo.

For twenty years prior to the churban/destruction Hashem was already sending messages and omens foretelling tragedy to Bnei Yisroel, for example, the red string did not come out of the Kodesh Kodoshim/Holy of Holies transformed into white string, indicating the sins had been forgiven. Perhaps the most telling omen of all, was that the great, heavy doors doors to the hall opened on their own, without human intervention, indicating that anyone would be able to come in at will, as did the destroyers.

Symbolically, writes Rabbi Eliyahu Roth, these doors represent the “doors” to the mouth, the lips which is no longer guard the mouth behind them, from which emanates whatever words or language the speaker wishes to say at the moment, regardless of any consequences. When you control your mouth, you close the gate to the loshon horo that leads to sinat chinom. If you {Bnei Yisroel] will use language not recognizable for a holy nation, I/God will bring a nation upon you from afar whose language you will not recognize. Just as your speech can destroy someone even when you are at a distance from him, deprive him of a job or of a shidduch, so will a nation come from afar to destroy you.

Your tongue is a dangerous weapon, reminds us Rabbi Pliskin. Guard it appropriately. Our inner sanctity comes out through the power of speech [We became a ruach memalela/speaking creature (Onkelos) through the breath Hashem breathed into us. Each time we breathe, there is a small exhalation of that breath. CKS] Loshon horo corrupts that sacred breath.

However, when a person considers himself the master of his own mouth, he is denying Hashem as his Master, writes Rabbi Noach Chaifetz. Then he will feel free to say whatever he wants, unencumbered either by halakhah or by propriety. We need to work on both strengthening our bitachon and on curbing our speech.

Rabbi Wolbe points out an interesting paradox in our history, unless we understand the importance of proper character traits. Dovid Hamelech, a most righteous monarch and servant of God, who governed a mitzvah observant Bnei Yisroel, suffered suffered fatalities in war while Achav, who led the Jews into idol worship, did not suffer such fatalities. However, notes Rabbi Wolbe, during the time of Dovid Hamelech there were gossip mongers among the Jews, whereas, as sinful as the generation of Achav was, they did not bear tales against each other. All the mitzvah observance could not protect Bnei Yisroel from the consequences of this major flaw in their character.

Since our Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed because of baseless hate, we must try to rebuild it through baseless love. Rabbi Zilberberg reminds us of Moshe’s greatness. Although being raised in Pharaoh’s palace when he grew up, he became great through going out of his comfort zone to see the suffering of his brothers and to carry the burden with them.

What blocks us from seeing others? Rabbi Zilberberg recounts this story about Rebbe Elimelech. Rebbe Elimelech had a rich but stingy congregant/disciple. Rabbi Elimelech asked the man to look into a mirror and then asked him what he saw. Obviously, he saw himself reflected back to him. Then the Rebbe took him to the window. Looking through the window, the man saw other people. What so often keeps us from seeing others is a blockage of silver in front of the looking glass of our eyes.

We ourselves may be very connected to Hashem, thanking Him for all our blessings, our health, our families, our livelihood. But do we see that our friend or neighbor may feel himself alone, lacking these blessings, asks Rabbi Zilberberg? We may not be in a position to help others financially, but we can all embrace our brethren with love, see what they are lacking, and pray for them. When we step out of ourselves and ignite the fire of baseless love for others within ourselves, we are helping light the fire of the altar in the Beit Hamikdosh.

There are two balancing aspects to proper speech, notes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. One needs to know what needs to be said and when and how to say it. But one must also learn to recognize when it is important to remain silent. As a model for these two aspects, we have Moshe the orator and Aharon, the one who remained silent even in the most trying circumstance.

Further, continues Rabbi Schorr, the Beit Hamikdosh was built straddling the lands of Yehudah and Binyamin. Most of the Beit Hamikdosh was built on the land of Yehudah, whose very name implies speech, voicing gratitude. But the Kodesh Kodoshim was in the portion of Binyamin who inherited the power of silence from his mother Rachel. Binyamin knew how to speak, as his representative stone on the priest’s breastplate implied (yesh peh), but he knew to speak only when it was necessary. Taking these lessons to heart, Rabbi Schorr suggests we practice silence on Shabbat, speaking only when necessary or discussing words of Torah.

We know how to talk; we must learn how to be silent. Rabbi Pincus reminds us of Yirmiyahu’s prophetic vision. As Bnei Yisroel is sent into exile, among all the heavenly Patriarchs and Leaders who beseeched Hashem to have mercy on Bnei Yisroel, Hashem responded only to Rochel Imenu, comforting her that the children will return to their ancestral home. Hashem responded to her silence, for she did not cry out when the dream of her marriage to Yaakov Avinu was being stolen from her and Leah was being married to Yaakov in her place. If you are not sure that what you are about to say is helpful or appropriate, don’t say it.

Rabbi Pincus notes that no one would ride in a car with faulty brakes. Keep the safety brakes on your lips as well. Only then can we keep ourselves grounded, go in the right direction and arrive safely at our destination.

May the final destination of Eretz Yisroel with Moshiach Tzidkeinu leading us be reached speedily, in our day.



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