Rabbi Shimon Kessin
THE SIN OF LOSHON HORA DESTROYED THE SECOND BAIS HAMIKDASH
Almost two thousand years ago an enormous tragedy occurred to the Jewish people. The Romans conquered the land of Israel, besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the second Bais Hamikdash. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed or cast into slavery. Jewish sovereignty over the land was terminated. When Chazal examined the cause for the divine decree that led to this tragedy, one clear answer loomed in front of them. It was due to the unwarranted and causeless hatred and jealousy that existed between one Jew and his brother (sinas chinom). The Chofetz Chaim in the introduction to his famous book on the laws of Loshon Hora makes an important observation about Chazal‘s discovery. He says that the jealousy and enmity that existed in the hearts of the Jews toward each other at that time, by itself, would not have been a sufficient reason to account for such a vast destruction.
It was only when those internal negative feelings were actually expressed as Loshon Hora, that is, when the feelings evolved into speech, did the divine decree of destruction become manifest. Thus the primary reason for the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash and the ensuing exile of the Jews that followed was really because of a very prevalent and continuous pattern of Loshon Hora that stemmed from intense feelings of jealousy and baseless hatred. The annual twenty four hour fast of Tisha B’Av (ninth of Av) was decreed by Chazal as a direct consequence of this destruction (and also that of the first Bais Hamikdash as well, since it was destroyed on the same day several centuries earlier). This day was set aside as a day of mourning and fasting.
The fast of Tisha B’av primarily relates to the destruction of the third Bais Hamikdash
If we consider the matter, however, an important question arises about the annual fast day of Tisha B’Av. Why must the Jews of later generations fast for an event that occurred much earlier in time? They were not there at that time and they were, therefore, not responsible for that tragedy. Moreover, why must they fast every year for the same tragedy? Let one year be sufficient. Why do they need to suffer over nineteen hundred fast days since that time? The answer to this question is startling.
In truth, the fast of Tisha B’av has little to do with the destruction of both the first and second Bais Hamikdash. It has everything to do with the destruction of the third Bais Hamikdash! How is this so? Every year since the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, Hashem desires to rebuild a third Bais Hamikdash and bring the Jewish people back to their true land, the land of Israel. However, when their deeds are examined, they are seen as unworthy. Accusations are brought against them by the Satan in the heavenly court of Justice and the plans are shelved to be considered the next year. Since the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, every generation for every year has, because of their sins, failed to be worthy of rebuilding the third Bais Hamikdash. This failure is considered as an act of destruction since those same sins would have destroyed the Bais Hamikdash had it actually existed. The Chazal referred to this notion when they said, “Every generation that fails to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash is considered to have destroyed it.” Each generation, on an annual basis, must, therefore, atone and mourn for this loss. The annual fast day of the month of Av, Tisha B’ Av, exists primarily to atone for this destruction of the third Bais Hamikdash and only secondarily to mourn for the destruction of the first and second Bais Hamikdash.
THIS LONG EXILE IS ALSO DUE TO LOSHON HORA
What are the sins that the Jewish people transgress that are responsible for the annual destruction of the third Bais Hamikdash and their inability to be restored to their land and former elevated condition. It is the very same sin that destroyed our last Bais Hamikdash and drove us from our land in the first place. It is the sin of Loshon Hora, the way we feel, treat and speak about one another, every Jew to his brother. We are still in the shadow of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash. We, as a people, have never risen above it. We have failed to cleanse ourselves from this sin and are mired in the same pit as before.
Loshon Hora is the primary cause of Jewish suffering in the last two millennia
You may think that the sin of Loshon Hora is only responsible for the destruction of our second Bais Hamikdash, the exile that followed and the inability to construct the third Bais Hamikdash. This would be a tragic mistake for it doesn’t stop there. The sin of unwarranted hatred and jealousy between Jews and the Loshon Hora that follows has been a primary cause for every tragedy that the Jews have suffered throughout their long and dark exile of almost two thousand years. The crusades, the Spanish expulsion, the pogroms, the massacres, and even the holocaust itself are all fundamentally connected to the sin of Loshon Hora. It is because of this that our Chazal vehemently warned us about the enduring power of this sin over and over again. They were warning us about the fundamental connection between the sin of Loshon Hora and Jewish suffering and tragedy. Our greatest folly is that we have failed to grasp this truth and teach it to our children with the same urgency that a mother has when she nurses her child, the necessity of survival itself.
The population growth of the Jews vs. the Chinese
You may think at this point that you are truly beginning to grasp the amazing destructive power of Loshon Hora as it has affected the Jewish people. This may not be so, not yet. Let me make it clearer by presenting you with a most devastating insight. Historians estimate that about two thousand years ago, during the period of the second Bais Hamikdash, there were approximately six million Jews living throughout the Roman world (including the land of Israel). Historians also estimate that at the same time there were about twenty four million Chinese in the land of China. Today, there are over a billion Chinese. In contrast, there are only about thirteen million Jews alive in the world today. If two thousand years ago the Jews were one quarter of the total amount of Chinese in the world (an anomaly even then, since the Jews are a much older people and should have been far more numerous), then today they should have a population of at least two hundred and fifty million people (the population size of the United States). Yet, with thirteen million people it means that they have simply doubled in two thousand years whereas the Chinese have increased forty times. The Jews, as one of the oldest people on Earth, should number amongst the largest, yet in reality, they are just about the smallest of all peoples! How could this be? Where did all the Jews go?
Loshon Hora is the main reason why the Jewish people are so small in number
The answer is devastating. The Jewish people as a nation have experienced throughout their history so many massacres and tragedies that they have been reduced to a dwarf nation with just about the least number of people on Earth. What caused this? There is only one answer the destructive power of unwarranted hatred and jealousy as expressed through Loshon Hora. Brotherly jealousy and hatred have left us a mere shadow of our former selves. Instead of becoming a nation whose number can be compared to the stars in heaven or the sands of the sea, we have become a people that can be compared to the trees of a forest – a mere pittance of what we should have been.
There can be no more dramatic reality capable of showing us the power of Loshon Hora then that which we have just presented. This reality, however, demands an explanation. What is the nature of this sin, that of Loshon Hora, that enables it to be so destructive? What is the source of its power? How exactly, does it control both our individual and national destinies? In order for us to answer this most important question, however, we must first understand why Hashem created man in the first place and what is his purpose in creation. The answer to this second question will serve as the basis for the answer to the first question.