The revolution against the Romans and siege on Jerusalem which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple, produced one of the worst holocausts in Jewish history. According to the testimony of Yosef Ben Matitiyahu (Yosefus Plabius), about one million Jews were killed in Jerusalem, and 100,000 prisoners were taken captive to Rome.
Despite this chilling fact, it is only a footnote in the history of this era. While every child knows that on Tish A B’Av the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, many Jews are less aware of the physical holocaust which accompanied it.
And how puzzling are the words of our sages, who tell us that that G-d had mercy upon the Jewish People, pouring out his fury on wood and stones (the Temple) instead of on the Jews themselves who had sinned. If this is so, the question is two-fold : 1. One million Jews killed shows us that “G-d poured his fury on wood and stones”? 2. Why has the death of so many Jews become marginal in our Tisha B’Av mourning? Is human life less important than the wood and stones of the Temple?
To answer these questions, we must free ourselves from our western mindset. For according to the Jewish idea, physical existence is NOT the ultimate value, but rather there is a purpose to the life of a Jew, and without this purpose, the reason for his existence becomes less significant.
This is the reason that the massive slaughter of Jews that took place during the siege is dwarfed in importance when compared to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish People from their land. Because when the People of Israel are not in the land of the living, Eretz Yisrael, and when their Temple is destroyed, the Jew can no longer properly fulfill his destiny in the world. His life, so to speak, loses its meaning.
This explains the startling stories of many Jews who lost their faculties upon seeing the Temple burning in flames, and simply cast themselves into the fire, burning themselves alive! They could not grasp a reality of “Am Yisrael” without the Holy Temple.
After 2,000 years of exile, this idea seems a bit extreme. Is it really the end of the world when the Temple is burned down? Don’t we at least fulfill mitzvot in the exile? Can’t we fulfill our destiny as Jews without a Temple? The answer to this is clear: No. The entire reality of observing mitzvot in the exile is “B’diavad” – that is, it is undesired, but must be done because of lack of choice. For the Torah was given to the Holy People to be performed in the Holy Land, and in the exile we became a mere religion comprised of individuals. For this the sages tell us that the purpose of fulfilling mitzvot in the exile is only so that we won’t forget them when we return to the Land of Israel, where the fulfillment of mitzvot take on their full significance.
Now we can answer the two questions we posed: When Israel sinned,desecrating the Holy Temple and turning it into a “discotheque”, G-d wasreally supposed to destroy us all, G-d forbid. But since G-d loves us and ties His Name (His existence, so to speak) to the name of the Jewish People, He determined that we will never be totally wiped out. Therefore, he destroyed the wood and stones of the Temple instead of destroying those who desecrated it. But this does not negate the possibility that the Jewish People will be severely punished with the likes of holocausts and exiles (which is the harshest punishment of them all). Indeed, total annihilation will never be, and in the end there will be redemption, with the Jewish People returning to fulfill it’s destiny in a complete way in its land and Temple.
Now it can be understood how the massive killing of Jews in Jerusalem can be viewed as a marginal event in relation to the destruction itself. Because the moment the Jewish People are exiled from their land and there is no Temple – life itself becomes less significant. More than that, all the tragedies of the exile – the Inquisitions and Holocausts, are secondary to the exile and the destruction itself. In fact, the spiritual vacuum of the Temple is the reason for the physical tragedies that befall us, for one is dependent upon the other!
Therefore, all efforts for “Eretz Yisrael”, for the building of the Holy Temple and for the purifying of the Temple Mount which is the life-center for “Am Yisrael”, are not reserved just for “those interested in politics”. All those who fear G-d, love Israel and are pained by the exile of the Divine Presence must make these issues the center of their lives. For the fulfillment of the mitzvot are dependent on them. The return of the Jewish People to life is dependent on them!!