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10 Av 5764 - July 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
As Long as the Protective Measures Were Intact, the Arabs Showed No Hatred

by the Yerushalmi Maggid, HaRav Benzion Yadler zt'l

The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah convened towards the end of the Babylonian exile. In their wisdom and with their spirit of holiness, they understood that Yerushalayim had only been destroyed because "people strictly followed the letter of the law" (Bava Metzia 32). In other words, the people had failed to observe the protective measures and the stringencies and customs that the Sages of each generation had instituted. The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah therefore instructed their disciples to "Make a fence for the Torah" (Ovos 1:1).

The mussar scholars explained this with a parable. During wartime civilians are fenced in with barbed wire. This is not for their protection; simple cutters can easily cut the wire apart. As long as the fence remains intact however, they feel safe from danger. If they find that it has been breached, they understand that they are all at risk.

It is the same with Torah and mitzvos. So long as the Torah's protective decrees are being fully honored and observed, we are assured that our observance of Torah and mitzvos is full and complete.

The mussar scholars tell the story of the man who came to his teacher asking him to tell him how to get the better of the yetzer hora, which he found to be stronger than him, and which was overcoming him every day. His rebbe suggested that he approach a certain wise person, with a lot of common sense, with his question. That man would give him the answer.

He arrived at the man's house in the early evening and found the door closed. He rang the bell but nobody answered. He rang again and, when nobody came, he looked through the window. He saw the man sitting at his table with his family. He knocked loudly but still nobody came.

He went back to his rebbe and responded to his, "What did he tell you?" with an account of his visit and the closed door.

"That's amazing" said his rebbe. "He is such an upright fellow and so courteous. How is it that he wouldn't ask someone into his house?"

He suggested that his talmid pay the man a visit the next morning and ask him to explain himself.

The next morning found him outside the man's house again. The door was again closed but this time, the master of the house himself answered as soon as he rang the bell. He welcomed his visitor, invited him in and even brought him a chair.

"What can I do for you?" the man asked his guest.

"I have something to ask you."

"Please, go ahead."

The visitor began telling him how he'd come the previous evening and rung the bell several times but nobody had answered him.

When he heard this the man said, "Was it you who knocked all those times last night? Weren't you ashamed to ring once, twice and then a third time at someone else's door? If you see that your ringing is not being answered you ought to stop it, turn around and go home. Who owns this place, you or me? If I have to open the door to you every time you come here, you'll be master and I'll be your servant."

The visitor went back to his rebbe and told him the story. This time his rebbe gave him an explanation. "My son," he said, "that is the answer to your question about how to vanquish the yetzer hora. The yetzer hora does not have power to get inside a person. He stands at the door ringing, as the posuk says, "Sin crouches at the entrance" (Bereishis 4:7).

All that a person who fears Heaven does is to refrain from opening the door and then he does not need to fight the yetzer hora at all. A foolish person opens the door and the yetzer hora bursts inside and takes over, as Chazal say, `To begin with he is a visitor, then he becomes master of the house.' The door represents the fence around the Torah. As long as the fence is intact, he can't get inside and draw a person into a struggle with him."

This is what Chazal meant when they said, "Yerushalayim was only destroyed because people strictly followed the letter of the law." They removed the protective fences and the yetzer hora was able to get the better of them and almost had a complete victory, chas vesholom.


From those days until our own, all our great Torah leaders throughout the world, have followed in the footsteps of the earlier sages and taken care to uphold their directive. These protective measures have been widely accepted, particularly in Yerushalayim, the holy city of the Mikdosh. Those who laid the foundations of the yishuv in Yerushalayim were outstanding geonim and tzaddikim: Rav Meir Auerbach of Kalish, Rav Moshe Leib of Kutna, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Shneur Zalman of Lublin zecher tzaddikim liverochoh. When they came to reestablish the Jewish community in Yerushalayim and in Eretz Yisroel, their first concern was to enact protective measures and repair any breaches in the wall of Torah observance.

As long as these fences remained in place in Yerushalayim, the Torah was kept in every detail. From the day that the fences were breached and the protective measures compromised -- particularly in the areas of chinuch, Shabbos and modesty -- the general level of religion has deteriorated sharply, R'l. Jewish children are given instruction in denial and heresy. Shabbos kodesh is publicly and openly profaned and Jewish daughters are divested of their holiness.

Experience bears this out. The generation that I found in Yerushalayim lived exclusively in the Old City; building outside the walls started in my time. A solid majority of the yishuv lived in a street named Rechov Chevron (so as to be continually mentioning the merit of the Ovos who are buried in Chevron), in an area bounded by Rechov Hayehudim going downwards, next to the [site of the] gateway of the Beis Hamikdosh (all the devout Jews who passed along that street would bow towards the [site of the] Mikdosh gates), by Rechov Mazbana to Shaar Shechem and by Rechov Baba Hatte until Shaar Ho'aroyos.

Within this area there were twenty-two bottei knessiyos, belonging to both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. There were two yeshivos gedolos: Toras Chaim and Chayei Olom, apart from the Sephardi yeshivos, and there were fifteen mikvo'os. In the batei knessiyos of Shomrei Hachomos, which were next to the site of the Mikdosh gates that were called Shaar Hachanuyos, there were shifts. The first shift lasted from nightfall until midnight and the second one from midnight until it grew light.

The Jews lived together with their Arab neighbors, yet no Jew was afraid to walk out alone. The Arabs bore the Jews no hatred. In fact, the relations between them were positively cordial. I grew up with Arab neighbors -- the Arab who owned our yard. The first shift would go home at midnight and the second shift would arrive from >Rechov Baba Hatte quite fearlessly. Some of them went at midnight to the Kosel Hama'arovi to say Tikkun Chatzos in tears and with great intensity, without any fear of our neighbors, whatsoever.

It is obvious that this was in fulfillment of the posuk, "And all the peoples of the land will see that Hashem's Name is attached to you and they will be afraid of you" (Devorim 28:10). Hashem's Name was clearly associated with all of them: men, women, boys and girls. The men were adorned with beards and long payos, the boys also had payos and the women dressed modestly.

It was a joy to behold. It was a joy to see the children going home from the chadorim by day and by night, with their Gemoras under their arms. It was a joy to hear the sound of the zemiros on Friday nights -- the streets were very narrow and the houses had two or three floors, the windows on either side faced each other. When everyone started singing zemiros, the sound of their voices filled all the streets. Everyone felt the place's holiness and quite literally, the Presence of the Shechinoh. It was a fulfillment of the posuk, "For Hashem . . . goes about in your camp . . . and your camp shall be holy" (Devorim 23:15).

But in our many sins, we have lost all this. Lewdness has replaced modesty. People grow long forelocks instead of payos and beards. There are mixed evening classes for young men and women, instead of shifts by the site of the Mikdosh. There are male and female teachers, instead of rebbis and there are alien books of study instead of Tze'enoh Ure'einoh. Ever since this has happened, we see the fulfillment of the posuk, "And He shall not see anything immodest in you and go away from you" (ibid.)

Hakodosh Boruch Hu put suppressed hatred of the Jews into the Arabs and they murdered however many they murdered and the rest fled from the city. Even those who owned houses and courtyards in the Old City, which they had bought with their own money, left their property and fled the city. Once again, the posuk, "Our inheritance has gone over to aliens; our houses to strangers" (Eichoh 5:2) was fulfilled.

The bottei knessiyos and bottei medrashos, where the sound of Torah study virtually never ceased by day or night, were either destroyed or burned, among them Yeshivas Toras Chaim. The Arabs sit in the remaining bottei knessiyos and do what they like there, in renewed fulfillment of the posuk, "Gentiles have entered Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy Temple" (Tehillim 79:1).

Woe to us on account of our sins that have caused this. After eighteen hundred years, our ancestors were living in the Old City in holiness and purity and the place has been destroyed because of our guilt and our glory has been exiled. Now there is nobody in the entire place who mentions Hashem's Name. Thank G-d that we are able to visit the Kosel Hama'arovi -- and even that we are afraid to do.

Our experiences are the fulfillment of Chazal's statement that "Yerushalayim was only destroyed because people strictly followed the letter of the law," in the plainest sense.

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