5772 -

Devarim / Tisha B’Av



      T.B. Shabbat 119b presents what would seem to be differing positions on why Yerushalayim was destroyed.1 As each of these opinions is introduced with the statement that Jerusalem would not have been destroyed except for this one failing, it would seem that these views are all in disagreement with each other. Maharsha, however, for technical linguistic reasons begs to challenge this;2 he concludes that there must necessarily be no disagreement. How are we, though, to understand how these variant viewpoints then come together? Perhaps more significantly, however, how are we also to understand this simple language of these statements that seems to imply that each one of these failings was the only reason for the destruction?

            In developing a response to these questions, Maharsha identifies that within this catastrophic event of the destruction of Yerushalayim are actually many different negative results. For example, the city was set on fire; the people were eventually exiled. It is in regard to these differing consequences of the destruction, Maharsha maintains, that these variant statements are referring. The devastation of fire was due to laxity in the observance of Shabbat; the tragedy of galut, exile, was a result of not being careful about meeting the time requirements of saying Kriat Shema both in the morning and at night. The one overall tragedy of the destruction actually reflects a combination of many different injurious parts that came together to create this specific disaster. The gemara is informing us of this point. The unique calamity and misfortune of the destruction of Yerushalayim was a result of a specific failing for it was this laxity that led to the inclusion of a specific negative result. If not for chilul Shabbat, the desecration of Shabbat, fire would not have been an element of this destruction and, essentially the event would have been qualitatively different. As a result, the event as was experienced and as we know it – the specific, uniqueness of the destruction of Yerushalayim as it was – was a result of each specific failing presented. There is no disagreement between the various Amoraim; there is just a shift in focus.

            Interestingly, it would seem from reading Maharal, Chiddushei Aggadot on this gemara that he also shared Maharsha’s view that these different statements are not in disagreement. Maharal, though, approaches the matter from what would seem to be a completely opposite perspective. He also sees these cases as reflecting parts of a whole but his focus, rather, is on the true one cause of the destruction. What he perceives in these variant statements are specific manifestations of the one real problem: that there was a lack of commitment and effort in regard to Torah study and wisdom. That they were not careful about the times of Kriat Shema, that they diverted the children from their Torah studies, that they embarrassed Torah scholars – these are all reflections of this one essential problem of grave consequence, that they did not properly devote themselves to Torah thought. According to Maharal there would also seem to be no disagreement between these Amoraim; there is just a shift in focus in that they are each describing a different manifestation of the essential one problem that truly was the cause of the destruction. The total devastation of the destruction was a result of the total disregard of the essential meaning of existence. What the gemara is presenting are different manifestations of this one insolence -- the complete indifference to the most essential of values, Torah wisdom.

            In much the same way that a prism reveals the spectrum of light that can be found in white light, these commentators, albeit in different ways, perceive this gemara as doing the same. While we refer to the destruction of Yerushalayim as one, integrated event, it is important to recognize that it also is an amalgam of parts. This is found in the variant elements of misfortune that merged in creating this unique calamity and it is also found in the variance in negative behaviours that reflected the one essential cause that brought about this Wrath of Heaven. What further interested me, though, was how these various elements came together to form this whole. In more specific terms, I was particularly interested in the co-existence of three particular failings – the lack of shame for each other, the equating of small and great and the lack of admonishment.3 I would think such lack of embarrassment and such lack of recognition of distinction in wisdom would result in increased rebuke. If one has no sense of shame and one perceives everyone as an equal, what would then prevent a person from rebuking another?

            My assumption was that if there was no fear of embarrassment and all thought that they were equal, there would be no hesitancy in rebuking another. One question may be, though, whether this would be a proper form of admonishment in any event. When the gemara states that they did not rebuke each other, we can, perhaps, assume that this is referring to a proper activity, not just simply a process of critiquing or lambasting another. If one does not have an element of shame, if one does not question one’s view of self, there is a clear reason to question whether one has done the necessary introspection that must precede any admonishment of another. This proper ability can only exist, though, within an atmosphere of respect for wisdom which then yields sensitivity to shame – for oneself and for the other – and a questioning of self especially in relation to another. Anything less will result in an improper admonishment. It may be, though, that the gemara is actually still saying that there would not even be any form of rebuke. Without any sense of shame and with a grandiose sense of self, one may also refrain from admonishing another for why bother. A sense of equality can also result in a view that anything goes. A lack of shame can also result in a view that everything is okay. A respect for wisdom sets a yardstick outside of oneself by which we can honestly evaluate ourselves. Without such a yardstick, we are left with only judging ourselves by the yardstick of our selves. This may be a cause of destruction.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht



1 It may be of interest to note that the language of this gemara specifically refers to the destruction of Yerushalayim while the language of T.B. Yoma 9b speaks of the destructions of the First and Second Temples. (I thank Rabbi Turin for drawing this distinction to my attention.) Of further note may also be that T.B. Gittin 55b,56a the famous gemara which contains the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, again uses the language of the destruction of Yerushalayim; in that case clearly specifically referring to the period of the Second Temple.  

2 The different opinions are presented as “says Rabbi xxx” rather than “Rabbi xxx says.” The former is deemed to imply that the author of this new statement simply wishes to add to the previous statement. The latter language, however, is deemed to imply that the author of this new statement is offering a totally new thought even in disagreement with the first statement.

3 In that I had previously developed, within a different context, the theme that a problem was in their lack of admonishing each other, I must admit that I was clearly drawn to this reason. See Nishma Insight 5757-22,23: Defining Sinat Chinum (Parts 1 and 2) at,%2023.htm.

Nishma 2012


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