Why did we lose the Land?

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One hundred years after Lord Balfour began the political process to enable millions of Jews to live in Eretz Yisroel as they do now, let’s look again at the religious reasons we lost the land two and a half thousand years ago. An honest discussion of the relevant pasukim and statements in Chazal will reveal what we need to do to transform the present political de facto situation into the true geula sheleima. We might also have a still better understanding of why we ask for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash at the end of our Shemone Esrei.

The pesukim on this subject in Sefer Yirmiyahu are very difficult to understand. Yirmiyahu says, “Is there a chochom who can understand this, someone to whom Hashem has spoken that he should explain this, why did we lose the Land and it has become parched like a desert without a passer-by?” Hashem said, “Because they forsook My Torah… they didn’t listen to My voice…they served idols.” (9:11-13)

The first difficulty is the plurality of expressions describing their disloyalty to the Torah, all of which seem to refer to idol-worship. But far more difficult, is that the first pasuk indicates that no-one could explain why the Land was lost, not even chachomim and nevi’im, while in the second and third pasukim Hashem said that the people were serving idols. If they were serving idols, the reason for the exile was clear, as we read in krias shema, “If you serve other gods…you will be exiled from the Land.”

Nedarim (81a) is often brought as a source to explain these pesukim. It asks, “Why are the children of talmidei Chachomim often not talmidei chachomim?” One answer of the Gemoro is that they don’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learn Torah, as Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav. What does the pasuk mean when it says, “Is there a Chochom who can explain this….why was the Land lost? Hashem said, Because they forsook My Torah, they didn’t listen to My voice…” Said Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav, this means that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah before they learnt Torah.”

The Ran explains that the Gemoro had the same difficulty as we had. If the people had really forsaken the Torah, why couldn’t the chachomim answer the question of why we were exiled from the Land?  The Gemoro answered  that their aveira was that they didn’t say Birkas HaTorah. However this is still difficult. Firstly, why didn’t the  Chachomim realise their aveira that they were omitting birkas HaTorah? Secondly, and more problematically, our Gemoro seems to imply that the only aveira was that the people did not say Birkas Hatorah. But this is contradicted by the simple meaning of many pasukim and also by another Gemoro (Yuma 9b) which says that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of idol worship, murder and immorality. Later (ibid 69b) the Gemoro says that Chazal later davened that Hashem should take away the yetzer hora for idol worship which had been the cause of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Ran brings the Megilas Sesorim who says that they did say Birkas HaTorah but they did not have the correct kavono when they said it.  This answers the first question. No human being could discern that until Hashem revealed their failing. However the second difficulty of the other sources which say clearly that the people were guilty of horrendous sins therefore everyone should have realized why we lost the Land, remains unanswered.  Perhaps this is the explanation. The people were clearly guilty of idol worship, murder and immorality, but Yirmiyahu wanted to know the source of this spiritual decline. What led us to fall so low?  And only Hashem knew, “They had forsaken My Torah.” Yes, they learnt the Torah and kept it but it wasn’t ‘My Torah’. They no longer felt the connection between themelves and the Shechina. And the first manifestation of this yerida was in the way they said Birkas Hatorah. They said the words, but they were not completely focused on the One to whom they were speaking. They lacked kavono. This led to a lack of kavono in other brochos and other mitzvos. “They didn’t listen to My voice,” as the navi said. This led to a gradual abandonment of other mitzvos and eventually to the cardinal aveiros including idol worship.

We see the same concept in reverse in Krias Shema. The wearing of tzitzis should first of all ensure that “We see them and remember all the mitzvos and do them.” Then, in an apparent repetition, we are told, “in order that you remember and keep all My mitzvos and be holy to Hashem Elokeichem.” This is not a repetition. We have, in fact, gone from keeping the mitzvos to keeping “My mitzvos” and through this we have become holy.

If we want to merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the Geula Sheleima, it is not enough to go through the motions of the mitzvos, even if we do them in every detail and following the strictest opinions. We have to reclaim our personal connection with Hashem. When we say a brocho, we have to know and feel that we are talking to Hashem. We will say the words clearly and accurately even if it takes a few more seconds. When we put on our tallis or tefillin or do any other mitzvah we will remember that this is not just “what Jews do”, but it is part of our Avodas Hashem.  When we learn Torah we will have in mind that we are bringing the Shechina down to this world which will protect us, particularly in Eretz Yisroel. (Bach)

By the time we reach the last section of the Shemone Esrei we have built up a close personal relationship to Hashem. We say “Elokai, netzor leshoni (not Elokim). We have, hopefully, regained at least to a small degree the madreiga we had before our spiritual decline which led to the Churban. There is no better moment to plead with Hashem that He should consider us worthy of the Geula….sheyibone Beis Hamikdash bimheira beyomeinu …kimei olom ukeshonim kadmonios.