The gemora (Nedorim 81a) quotes the question of the
posuk in Yirmiyahu (9:11) that asks: "For what
reason did the Land perish and become parched like a desert .
. .?" What was the reason for such a harsh punishment? The
gemora explains that this question was put to the
Sages and the Prophets and the angels. None could give the
reason, until Hashem Himself answered: "Because they have
forsaken my Torah that I set before them they did not heed My
voice nor follow it."
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav that this means that the
people neglected to recite birchas HaTorah before they
began learning every day. The Ran in his commentary on this
gemora quotes Rabbeinu Yonah zt"l who explains
that to assume that the Torah was actually "forsaken" would
be incorrect. Granted that superficially the gemora
does imply that the Land was destroyed because of bitul
Torah, however if this were true, "then when the question
was put to the Sages and Prophets, why did they not explain
it, for it was certainly obvious and easy to explain?"
Therefore, the gemora's lesson must be deeper.
"Rather, definitely they were always occupied with Torah,
therefore . . . HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself had to
explain it, for He knows the depths of the heart," that they
did not begin learning with birchas HaTorah.
In other words, the Torah was not held in high enough esteem,
it was not considered sacred enough, to recite a blessing
upon it. They were not learning lishmoh and so they
belittled its blessings. Although the level of concentration
and effort was apparently faultless, there was a hidden but
much more serious crime -- lack of recognition of the
importance of Torah.
Torah was looked upon as a form of wisdom. Certainly, they
valued Torah as a brilliant, deep and manifold body of
knowledge, but it was just that to them and no more. In their
eyes, Torah had lost its Divine obligation and origin.
Morals, philosophy and law do not warrant the recital of a
blessing. Lehavdil, the Torah Hakedoshoh
requires our recognition of what it means to us and to
the world. We must have a full understanding and we must feel
gratitude for what it means for us to have it, to learn it
and to fulfill it.
Based on the conclusion of this gemora, the Bach
zt"l (Tur: Orach Chaim 47) gives us an inkling of what
the Torah is ultimately able to accomplish, if only we had
the proper approach and attitude towards it; real
lishmoh. The Bach writes, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu is
exacting of those who learn Torah, even if they are very
involved with it, if they are not careful to first recite the
blessings upon it. Why, one may ask, should there be such a
[devastating] consequence, to punish them with such a great
and astonishing punishment as this [that the Land should be
destroyed], because they did not first recite the blessings --
seemingly a minor offense?"
In his answer, the Bach explains that Hashem gave us the
Torah as a means to join our physical bodies to Divine
ruchniyus and kedushoh. "HaKodosh Boruch Hu
gave Torahs emes to Klal Yisroel as a gift . . .
that our souls and bodies, the two hundred and forty-eight
organs and three hundred and sixty-five ligaments, should
cleave to the two hundred and forty- eight positive
commandments and the three hundred and sixty-five negative
commands contained in the Torah."
The ultimate goal of this fusion is "to draw the
Shechinah downward to the earth in order that our
souls can be elevated to a position of great standing after
death." If the Torah is learned with the correct intention,
then the neshomoh can fuse with every part of the
physical body, transforming it into a "chariot and abode for
the Shechinah." The ultimate achievement is "that the
Shechinah be actually within our midst." There would
be an illumination of Hashem's glory in this world-resulting
in the unification of the spiritual and physical worlds.
This is the supreme ideal, and we must always remember it.
The Bach writes that the learning in the generation of the
Destruction was motivated by the sole reason of knowing "what
is needed for physical existence, to know the laws required
for business. Also, to be prideful and show off wisdom . . .
this creates a separation [between us and Hashem] and the
Shechinah withdraws from the earth . . ." The Bach
teaches us that this is not the ultimate perfection and
purpose of Torah and it automatically results in
churban -- an awful consequence.
These ever-so-slight, but disastrous, flaws of shelo
lishmoh were recognized only by Hashem, for neither the
Sages, the Prophets nor the angels could know the inner
thoughts and motivations of the People and therefore could
not explain the cause of golus. The abundance and
hasmodoh of learning were so great that no superficial
explanation could suffice; but Hashem knew the truth: that we
lost our Land because of our selfish desires and mundane
pursuits. Hashem gave us His holy Torah, a wonderful,
precious gift and it is disgraceful to use it solely for our
Inevitably, once Torah lost its significance and there was no
possibility for the Shechinah to continue to dwell
among us, the Land was exposed to our enemies, for the
Shechinah had departed. The fact that we did not
recite bircas HaTorah was indicative of the fact that
we no longer understood and appreciated how great a gift
Hashem's Torah really is. We live in golus because of
this lack of understanding and appreciation.
Outwardly everything seemed proper, but Hashem looked into
the hearts of that generation and knew that they had lost
their appreciation for what Torah is and for what it can
ultimately accomplish. Amazingly, according to the Bach,
since they were not ready to learn Torah in the way that was
going to change them all into mal'ochim, the only
recourse was exile.
In and of itself, not reciting bircas HaTorah before
learning should not justify such a severe punishment.
Therefore, the Bach explains that not making the
brochoh was only a symptom of the deeper, much more
serious crime of equating the Torah Hakedoshoh with,
lehavdil, secular knowledge.
The mitzvah of learning Torah, if done properly
lishmoh, allows us to fulfill our obligation as cited
in the first se'if of the Shulchan Oruch Orach
Chaim, "I have set Hashem before me always." This is a
radically different goal than any human system of knowledge
Hashem before me always -- this is the essence of Torah and
the essence of our lives. This is what sets us apart from the
rest of Creation. It is not accomplished quickly, but this is
what Hashem expects of us, and so Hashem gave us His Torah to
accomplish it. Bnei Torah in particular must have this
as their life's ambition and goal. A ben Torah's
aspirations must be the maximum -- nothing less.
It is the work of a lifetime, but this is why Hashem gave us
life. The essence of a ben Torah rests upon knowing,
without any doubt, as the Bach teaches us, the specific
purpose and significance of Torah. If we lose sight of this,
we continue the crime, as the Talmud Yerushalmi
(Yuma 1:1) obligates all of us, for, "Every generation
in which the Beis Hamikdosh was not rebuilt, it is
considered as if they destroyed it."
Chazal (Pesiktoh Medrash Rabba Eichoh 1:2) explain
that our exile from Eretz Yisroel was not because of
idolatry, adultery and bloodshed. HaKodosh Boruch Hu
would have overlooked these three cardinal sins had we
not abandoned the Torah. Had we only been grateful and
The Medrash continues with a remarkable insight. "Rav
Hunah and Rav Yirmia said in the name of Rav Chia bar Abba.
`It says [Yirmiyahu 16:11] "But Me they forsook, and
my Torah they did not observe." If only they had forsaken Me
but still observed My Torah. For had they been occupied with
it [the Torah], it would have enlightened their eyes, and
they would have returned to good.' " Our exile could have
been averted, if we had just properly applied ourselves to
the study of Torah. Torah had the power to compensate and
correct for all of our sins.
Therefore, when we lost our bond to Hashem through not
properly learning His Torah, this was the final blow to an
already weak relationship. Churban and golus
were the only recourse, since we lost our distinction and our
potential for perfection.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt'l (in Ma'assei Ovos Simon
Lebonim) explains how Hashem could overlook such serious
transgressions if there had just been Torah. "When two sides
are at war, even if one side has a victory, nonetheless the
war is not finished. It is possible that today or tomorrow
the opponent may triumph. However, if one side seizes his
opponent's weapons and leaves him without arms, this ends the
war, for it is impossible to do battle without weapons. This
is analogous to the war with the yetzer hora that
Hashem testifies to, `I created the yetzer hora. I
created the Torah as an antidote and no other weapon will
succeed against the yetzer hora except the learning of
Therefore when Klal Yisroel was neglectful of learning Torah,
they lost their weapons and they had nothing with which to do
battle with the yetzer hora. However, if Klal Yisroel
is delinquent with other even more serious transgressions
there is still hope, for it is possible that by learning
Torah we will be aroused to teshuvoh. As long as we
cling to the Torah, all is not lost. Even the worst sins can
be corrected if we remain steadfast in our commitment to
In our daily Shemoneh Esrei, there is a prayer
directed specifically to the building of Yerushalayim, "And
to Yerushalayim Your city may You return in compassion, and
may You dwell within it as You have spoken. May You build it
soon in our days as an everlasting edifice, and may You
speedily establish the throne of Dovid within it." The
blessing then concludes, "Blessed are You Hashem, the Builder
This is what we normally say, but on Tishah B'Av there is a
special addition to the prayer's conclusion. "For you Hashem,
consumed her with fire and with fire You will rebuild her, as
it is said, `I will be for her . . . a wall of fire around
her and I will be glorious in her midst.' Blessed are You,
Hashem, Who consoles Tzion and rebuilds Yerushalayim."
The Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed by fire and we pray
that soon, Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdosh shall
be rebuilt with fire. Fire burns, consumes and destroys; how
is fire a way to build?
The commentary Dover Shalom to the sefer Otzar
Hatefillos explains. "The walls of fire that HaKodosh
Boruch Hu will, in the future, bring down with the
Beis Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim are made from the
flaming sparks of awe that those who serve Hashem ignite
during their learning Torah and prayers to Hashem. They, so-
to speak, combine, and from them the wall of fire is built.
If so, Yerushalayim is being built each and every moment
through the union of these fire sparks of devotion."
The Beis Hamikdosh and Yerushalayim are constantly
being rebuilt through our efforts in Torah, mitzvas and
prayer. This gives us an insight into how very important our
obligations for exertion in learning Torah, devotion in
fulfilling the mitzvas and concentration in prayer actually
Wanting the Beis Hamikdosh, knowing what it means for
us, needing what it does for us -- this is basic for every
Jew. The power of our own prayers should not be
underestimated. Each of us has our unique personal
obligation. The Ramchal writes this openly in his sefer
Mesillas Yeshorim (Chapter 19). He quotes the Tanna Devei
Eliyohu that says that a chochom who possesses the
true wisdom of Torah will "grieve for the honor of
HaKodosh Boruch Hu and for the honor of Klal Yisroel
all his days. He longs for and grieves over the honor of
Yerushalayim, the honor of the Beis Hamikdosh, and for
the quick blossoming of the Redemption and for the
ingathering of the exiles." If he does so, the Tanna Devei
Eliyohu teaches us that such a person will be privileged to
see that his words embody ruach hakodesh.
Based on this, the Ramchal teaches that these are the proper
thoughts for all of us. We must feel "constant actual grief"
over golus and the churban and ". . . to yearn
for the geula in order that there be an exaltation of
Hashem's glory." This is what we are expected to yearn and
pray for. To "continually pray for the redemption of Klal
Yisroel and the return of the glory of Heaven to its former
The Mesillas Yeshorim then adds, "And if one will say,
`Who am I and what is my worth that I should pray for
Yerushalayim! That because of my prayers those in exile shall
be gathered in and the salvation shall come forth?'" The
answer, as the Ramchal explains, is that we have to do as
much as we can. This is our obligation and this is what
Hashem expects of us. True, the final, complete Redemption
depends upon the Will of HaKodosh Boruch Hu. However,
in the meantime, we have our avodoh, and our prayers,
which Hashem uses to build the walls of fire, the walls of
Yerushalayim, that one day, may it come soon, will testify to
the everlasting glory of Hashem's reign.
The churban is not just a past historical event. It is
always happening, always burning. It is burning to be
rebuilt, and burning if not rebuilt! Churban and
golus are not the norm. They are abnormal and foreign.
We have Hashem's Torah and with it, we can turn golus
into geula and churban into perfection. May we
see this happen quickly in our days, and at that moment may
we again be worthy to reassume our standing as Hashem's
People in Hashem's Land, serving Him in His City and in His