In Sefer Zecharia, residents of Bet El send a delegation to the Kohanim to ask a question of God: Now that the process for re-building the Bet HaMikdash is underway, do we need to continue to fast on Tish’a Ba’Av. This exchange takes place at the beginning of Perek 7, and the answer of Hashem–through the prophet Zecharia–is a very telling lesson for us today, as we approach the period known as The Three Weeks.
Beginning with the fast of 17 Tammuz (this year on July 24) and culminating on 9 Av, during this three week period, Jews around the world observe varying levels of mourning for the loss of both the first and second Temples. (There are significant differences in observances between Ashkenazim and Sefaradim; those differences are not relevant, as far as the message of this post.)
On the surface, the question that is asked of God makes sense. For seventy years, during the Babylonian Exile, the Jews fasted and mourned on the 9th of Av every year, in memory of the loss of the First Temple. Now, they claim, since we are on track to rebuild the Second Temple, do we need to fast any longer?
The response that Hashem and the Navi give boils down to one point: YOU HAVE ASKED THE WRONG QUESTION! Instead of asking whether or not to continue fasting you should have asked the following question: “What can we do, as we begin the process of rebuilding, to ensure that we will never again lose the Temple?” In other words, instead of focusing on the past…they should have been more concerned with preventing another destruction in the future.
If a person owned a business, for example, and that business failed, and then the owner wanted to re-open a new business, one of the most critical aspects of that new “plan” would need to be to figure out what went wrong the first time around in order to not repeat the same mistakes.
We are speaking here, not of a “business” but the Bet HaMikdash! We are speaking of the House of Hashem on this Earth. It is at that point that the Navi blasts the Bnei Yisrael in his reply.
He then proceeds to tell the Jewish people the “recipe” to keep the Bet HaMikdash and not to lose it, like the first time around. Zecharia says:
מִשְׁפַּט אֱמֶת, שְׁפֹטוּ, וְחֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים, עֲשׂוּ אִישׁ אֶת-אָחִיו. י וְאַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם גֵּר וְעָנִי, אַל-תַּעֲשֹׁקוּ; וְרָעַת אִישׁ אָחִיו, אַל-תַּחְשְׁבוּ בִּלְבַבְכֶם.
(“Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”)
The Jews are told that certain conduct can act not only as an antidote to prevent another destruction, but it also will ensure social justice and peace among citizens.
Take a look at the conduct that the Jews are bidden to adhere to and realize how relevant this list is to us still today:
- True justice between our fellow human beings
- Acts of Chessed (loving-kindness) between our fellow human beings
- Acts of mercy between our fellow human beings
- Not to oppress widows and orphans
- Not to oppress converts nor the poor
- Do not think in your heart to wrong one another
Sadly, the Jewish people do not abide, back then, by these forms of conduct and, as we all know, the Second Temple was also destroyed.
Justice, acting properly between our fellow Jews, not causing harm or ill-will to those who may be less fortunate or who ma be looked at as different: these are what makes up a society that can sustain a Bet HaMikdash. The last item on the list does not say “don’t harm your fellow.” It says do not even consider to wrong another! Harbor no malice….
The truth is that this post can be very long, replete with many contemporary examples, in which all of this list seems to be abrogated on many levels of our society. However, instead of writing that which is fairly obvious, let it suffice that, as we come closer to the time period of the mourning of the loss of the two Batei Mikdash (which begins on Sunday, July 24, 2016–18 Tammuz, delayed one day this year), it would be helpful for ALL of us, if we were to make the effort to live up to the charge of the words of Zecharia and thereby bring about the true Geula Shlema, speedily in our days.