Sinai and Tziyyon
BEIN HAM'TZARIM (THE "THREE WEEKS")
SINAI AND TZIYYON
by Yitzchak Etshalom
THE MISHNAH IN TA'ANIT
THE MISHNAH IN TA'ANIT
In our calendar, there are four fast days which directly relate to the destruction of the Beit haMikdash and Yerushalayim under the Babylonians during the latter half of the sixth century BCE:
- Asarah b'Tevet (Tevet 10 - in the winter), when the siege of the city
by the Babylonians began;
- Shiv'ah 'Asar b'Tammuz (Tammuz 17 - summer), when the walls of the city
were breached, several years after the beginning of the siege;
- Tish'ah b'Av (Av 9 - summer), when the Beit haMikdash was destroyed by
- Tzom G'daliah (Tishri 3 - fall) when the Judean governor was assassinated in an Ammonite-generated plot. This brought about the end of Jewish autonomy under the Babylonians.
In the Mishnah in Ta'anit (4:6), we are taught:
On the 9th of Av:
Five catastrophes befell our ancestors on the Shiv'ah 'Asar b'Tammuz and five on Tish'ah b'Av:
On the 17th of Tammuz:
- The Tablets were broken
- The Tamid offering was stopped
- The city walls were breached
- Apostomos burned the Torah
- He constructed an idol (or "an idol was constructed") in the Sanctuary
- The sentence was passed against our ancestors that they not be allowed
to enter the Land
- The 1st Mikdash was destroyed
- The 2nd Mikdash was destroyed
- Beitar was entrapped
- The city was plowed under
ANALYZING THE MISHNAH
Whenever the Tannaim (Rabbis of the Mishnaic period) present an ordered list (i.e. when they introduce that list with the number of items to appear), especially in non-Halakhic literature, it indicates a signficance to that number. This does not mean that there is a mystical import (although there may well be), but that if two parallel lists are presented, both with the same number of items and both "ordered", the symmetry indicates a parallel (or opposing) relationship between the two. (For an example of an "opposing" relationship, see the Mishnah in Avot [5:19]: "Anyone who has these three [following] characteristics is considered a student of Avraham Avinu, and anyone who has three other [opposite] characteristics is considered a student of the evil Bil'am." For an example of a parallel relationship, see the Mishnah ibid. 5:4 - "Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in Egypt and ten [miracles] at the Sea." An opposing relationship is evidenced by the opposite nature of the lists - Avraham is a saint and Bil'am is evil. A parallel relationship is identified whenever the two groups are of a similar type - in a general sense.)
The placement of these two "themes" and their lists of tragedies in juxtaposition implies a continuum from one to the other. This sequenced relationship is more clearly evidenced by the tradition that we have to regard the time period between Shiv'ah 'Asar b'Tammuz and Tish'ah b'Av as a unit, marked by customs of mourning (e.g. no weddings, parties, haircutting etc. - see Shulhan Arukh Orach Hayyim #551 and the Aharonim ad loc.)
>From this Mishnah (and our analysis & comments), we can infer four points:
a) Each of these days has a "theme".The rest of this shiur will be focused on identifying the themes of each of these days, by finding the common thread between the five items on each list - then suggesting the relationship between the two sets of tragedies, explaining the continuum of Shiv'ah 'Asar b'Tammuz ---> Tish'ah b'Av. This will, hopefully, enlighten us as to the nature of the "Three Weeks".
b) This "theme" explains the inclusion of all five items on each list.
c) There is a parallel relationship between the two. (It is not an "opposing" relationship as the two sets are not presented as antitheses, rather they are all of one type - tragedy).
d) There is a continuum between the two "themes".
SHIV'AH 'ASAR B'TAMMUZ:
REJECTION OF SINAI
1) THE BREAKING OF THE TABLETS
2) THE TAMID OFFERING WAS STOPPED
A verse in Parashat Pinhas will clarify:
It is a regular burnt offering, ha'Asuyah b'Har Sinai (ordained/performed at Mount Sinai) for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to YHVH. (Bamidbar 28:6).As some of the Rishonim (see S'forno and Rashi's second explanation ad loc.) point out, this verse associates the regular twice-daily Korban with the offering brought in the aftermath of the Revelation as part of the covenant ceremony at Sinai (See Sh'mot 24:5-8). In other words, the daily Tamid was to be a reminder and recovenanting of the B'rit Sinai - the covenant of Sinai. We now understand the inclusion of the suspension of the Tamid with the breaking of the Tablets.
3) THE CITY WALLS WERE BREACHED
One of the most beautiful compilations of Rabbinic "tragedy-literature" is the Midrash Rabbah on Eikhah. Of note is the extensive "Petichta", which contains the many homiletic introductions given by the Rabbis to the reading of Eikhah (or other tragic portions in Tanakh read publicly). In the second chapter of the Petichta, we read:
Rebbi sent R. Asi and R. Ami to check out - and repair- the cities of Eretz Yisra'el; they would come to a city and ask for the N'turei Karta (guardians of the city) - and the townsfolk would bring them the constable and governor - whereupon they would say - "Are these these the N'turei Karta? These are the Haruvei Karta (destroyers of the city)!" - So they asked "Who are the N'turei Karta?" - They responded: "These are the scribes and teachers who study and review and guard the Torah during the day and night." (Petichta of Eikhah Rabbah, Ch. 2)(This Midrash is the source for the name of the community in Yerushalayim known as N'turei Karta. There is a wide range of opinions as to how closely their policies and actions comport with the sentiments of this Midrash).
The Midrash is teaching a valuable lesson, one which deserves a shiur of its own. The protection of the city comes not from its military might, rather from its scribes, teachers and students of Torah.
If the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were successfully breached, that would imply a breach in the protection of Torah - and a lapse among her students and scribes. Although the association with Sinai is now clear - Sinai is not only the source and foundation of Torah, but, as many Rishonim point out, every time that we engage in Torah study, we are effectively reenacting the Sinai experience (See Rashi D'varim 11:13). There is also a clear association between the study of Torah and the Korban haTamid, alluded to in the Midrash mentioned above. The Korban haTamid was to be brought twice daily, in the morning and evening ("between the evens"). Torah study is defined in the Torah as "when you lie down and when you rise up" - or, as God commands Yehoshua: "You shall meditate upon it by day and by night" (Yehoshua 1:8). In other words, the study of Torah parallels the Korban haTamid - it is an ongoing Mitzvah which has two time-foci: Morning and evening (see our shiur on the Korban haTamid, cited above.) The lapse of study which allowed the breach of the city walls is of a type with the suspension of the Korban haTamid - the cessation of the "day-and-night" worship of God, originated at Sinai.
4) APOSTOMOS BURNED THE TORAH
5) HE CONSTRUCTED AN IDOL IN THE SANCTUARY
SUMMARY OF LIST #1
REJECTION OF TZIYYON
1) THE SENTENCE AGAINST OUR ANCESTORS
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. Rabbah said in the name of R. Yohanan: That night was Tish'a b'Av; haKadosh Barukh Hu said: They cried for naught, I will establish for them [this night as] a weeping for generations. (BT Sotah 35a)In other words, the wailing (and the subsequent decree that that entire generation would die in the desert and their children would enter the Land) was the event that shaped the nature of Tish'ah b'Av. Just as we found in regards to Shiv'ah 'Asar b'Tammuz, the tragedies of Tish'ah b'Av are rooted in our desert sojourn.
In describing this wailing, the Pslamist says:
Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They grumbled in their tents, and did not obey the voice of YHVH.Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness. (T'hillim 106:24-26)Indeed, their eager acceptance of the scouts' negative report was tantamount to a rejection of the "pleasant land", the Land which God had promised them, flowing with milk and honey and all manners of blessing.
We may then, following our earlier methodology, identify the Tish'ah b'Av group of tragedies as forms of rejection of Tziyyon/Israel.
2-3) THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BATEI MIKDASH
There is, however, a critical difference between the role of the Mishkan/Mikdash (="Heikhal" - Sanctuary) and the "Beit haMikdash", which includes the entire structure and institution. Whereas the Mishkan/Mikdash is the continuation of Sinai, with the smoke and fire reminiscent of the moment of Revelation, the Temple (writ large) plays a critically different role. The sanctity of the Temple plays a different role than that of the Mikdash. Whereas the Mikdash is a place reserved for the intimate relationship between the Jewish people and God, the Temple is - ideally and teleologically - a beacon for the entire world. We will address this fully in the concluding section of the shiur.
As we will see, the destruction of the Batei Mikdash and the rejection of the Land are of a type - they both belong to the de-evolution of a different mission from that established at Sinai. We will refer to it as the B'rit Tziyyon - the covenant of Zion.
4) BEITAR WAS ENTRAPPED
5) THE CITY WAS PLOWED UNDER
SUMMARY OF LIST #2
BETWEEN SINAI AND TZIYYON
"The Torah which Mosheh commanded us is a Morashah (inheritance) to the congregation of Ya'akov" - Do not read Morashah, rather read M'orasah (betrothed); the Torah is betrothed to the Jewish people and is considered a "married woman" to the nations of the world.See also BT Sanhedrin 59a where R. Yohanan utilizes this D'rashah to rule that if a non-Jew studies Torah, he is liable for death, either for "stealing" (the inheritance - reading Morashah) or for adultery (reading M'orasah).
Sinai was, indeed, the place where the Jewish people became separate from the nations of the world. The Gemara in Shabbat (89a-b), discussing the various names given to that mountain, identifies the name "Sinai" with Sin'ah (hatred) - the mountain where hatred came down to the nations (Rashi: because they did not accept the Torah. This is based on the Midrash that prior to the Revelation, God offered the Torah to all of the nations and they rejected it). Another identification there is Horev (the name used in Sefer D'varim) with *Hurban* (destruction) - that it is the mountain from where destruction came down to the nations of the world.
Sinai represents that point of intimate and exclusive contact between the Jewish people and God. This is typified by the constant and consistent worship of God - both the daily offerings and the constant study of Torah (which is, again, our exclusive possession).
Sinai was, of course, not the end of the road for us. Our destiny was not to remain encamped at the foot of the mountain (see D'varim 1:6), rather to conquer the Land and to establish a Holy Community there. What was the purpose of that community, of that nation?
We find the answer in one of the most famous sections of Tanakh, which appears in the prophecies of Yeshayah and Michah (8th c. BCE):
The word that Yeshayah son of Amotz saw concerning Yehudah and Yerushalayim. In days to come the mountain of YHVH's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHVH, to the house of the God of Ya'akov; that He may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.For out of Tziyyon shall go forth instruction, and the word of YHVH from Yerushalayim." He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Yeshayah 2:1-4)Our mission, the B'rit of Tziyyon, is to be a model nation which attracts the attention and spiritual thirst of the nations of the world. The beautiful words: "From out of Tziyyon..." which we say every time we take out the Sefer Torah - are words which the prophet puts into the mouths of the nations of the world. An ethical, learned nation will certainly attract the nations of the world who will want to learn "our secret"; when they come a bit closer and see that our close relationship with God is the source of our learning and of our ethics - they will desire to learn from His teachings as well. The place of that instruction, as they themselves will say, is "Tziyyon".
We can now understand why the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash belongs with the rejection of the Land. One common interpretation (more prevalent in Hassidic thought) of the behavior of the scouts and the reaction of the people, was that they did not want to enter the Land because they knew that that would spell the end of their intimate relationship with God. They would become a nation among nations - with the responsibility of ethical leadership among them. The destruction of the Batei Mikdash - ideally the world-wide center for God's instruction through the Jewish people (keep in mind that the Sanhedrin was seated right in the Beit haMikdash in the "office of hewn stone") - meant the (temporary) suspension of the opportunity to completely fulfill this responsibility. The fall of Beitar and the plowing of the city were, again, seemingly fatal blows to our national destiny and opportunity. (Thank God, we have merited living in a generation in which we have been allowed to return and try again.)
We not only understand the nature of each list - but also the sequence. First, we were to fulfill B'rit Sinai, maintaining and constantly strenghtening our exclusive relationship with God - and we are also to fulfill B'rit Tziyyon, using that special relationship to teach and inspire the world.
This is the tragedy of these three weeks - our failure in both regards, one
leading to the next. It is not for naught that the traditions of our
people have created a sense of continuity between these two fast days -
they are, indeed, a sequence which we must reverse, through the
introspection and Teshuvah motivated by a fast (see Rambam, MT Ta'aniot,
...For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Yeshayah 56:7)May we speedily merit the complete rebuilding of our nation and of our Beit haMikdash - and may this be the last year when these fasts remain days of sadness:
Thus says YHVH of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (Av), and the fast of the seventh (Tishri), and the fast of the tenth (Tevet), shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Yehudah: therefore love truth and peace.