Cause of the Destruction
We are in the middle of the three week period of mourning for the destruction of both the first and second Temples and, in general, for all the tragedies of the exile and dispersion of the Jewish people. What terrible sins led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people? If we understand the fundamental flaws that precipitated these events, we can begin to take the first steps toward redemption. The Talmud tells us:
Any generation in whose days the Temple was not rebuilt, is considered as though the Temple was destroyed in its days.
The fact that we have not yet merited the redemption means that, at some level, we are still guilty of the very sins that caused the exile. The Talmud describes the transgressions which led to the destruction of the First and Second Temples:
The First Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people transgressed the three cardinal sins of idol worship, murder and sexual immorality. However during the Second Temple period the Jews engaged in Torah study and fulfilled the commandments. For what sin was it destroyed? For the sin of groundless hatred, [i.e., hatred that is not a response to another’s evil actions]. This teaches us that the sin of hatred is equivalent to transgression of idol worship, murder and sexual immorality
It would appear that the two Temples were destroyed for quite different, although equally serious, sins. A closer examination of these transgressions, however, reveals their common origin. Idol worship is the most extreme form of severing one’s relationship with God. Murder reflects the complete breakdown of one’s relationship to other human beings. Sexual immorality is a “victimless crime” but it undermines the individual’s spiritual purity; the victim is one’s own soul. Groundless hatred springs from egocentric, self-worship. I hate others because something has offended ME, someone has more than ME, someone is happier than ME, or someone is different than ME. Placing oneself at the center of existence to the exclusion and negation of everyone else is the ultimate cause of all other sins, therefore the Talmud equates it with idol worship, murder and sexual immorality. The totally self-centered person cannot have a relationship with God or with other people, and even his relationship with his own soul is corrupted. In order to correct this sin, we must develop the opposite characteristics of selflessness, generosity and groundless love. Rabbi Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Israel before 1948, used to say, “If the Temple was destroyed because of unfounded, baseless hatred, then it can only be rebuilt by unfounded, baseless love.”