Preventing Identity Theft
By Rabbi Yehudah Prero
The Medrash (Eichah Rabba 1:10) relates an interesting dialogue between
Hashem and our forefather Avraham. “Rav Ukva said: On the night of the
ninth of Av our father Avraham entered the Holy of Holies. The Holy One,
blessed be He, grabbed him by the hand and walked with him on long paths
and short ones. The Holy One, blessed be He, asked him, “What has My
beloved to do in My house?” He answered, ‘My Master, where are my
children?” He said to him, “They have sinned, and I have exiled them among
the nations.” Avraham asked, “Were there no righteous people among them?”
He replied, “She [Israel] has done vile deeds.” Avraham said to Him “You
should have considered the good among them.” He replied, ‘the mass of them
were bad, as it is written, "She has done vile deeds, even the
multitudes." Avraham said, You should have considered the covenant of
circumcision in their flesh.’ He replied, ' by your life, they have
repudiated it, as it is stated, “And the holy flesh is passed from you.”
Not only that, but they rejoiced in each other's downfall’ as it is
written “When you do evil, then you rejoice;” and it is written, “he that
is glad at calamities will not be unpunished.”
Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz (Yaaros D’vash, drush 4 and 10) notes that the
dialogue, and in fact the whole episode, is unusual. Why would Avraham
need a tour of the Bais HaMikdosh, the Holy Temple? Hashem clearly knew
why Avraham was there – to advocate on behalf of his children. So why did
Hashem ask? The Talmud tells us that the first Temple was destroyed
because of idol worship, murder and illicit relationships. Yet, in the
dialogue, the conversation focuses on “vile deeds,” repudiation of
circumcision, and an inherent hatred of one another, to the extent that
people rejoiced in each other’s downfalls. Why were these infractions
singled out in this conversation?
Rav Eibshitz notes that the nation of Israel at the time of the
destruction of the first Temple was indeed engaged in vile deeds. The
fault found in the generation that lived at the time of the destruction of
the second Temple was pervasive baseless hatred. However, the first exile
lasted a mere 70 years; the second exile is the one in which we currently
find ourselves. In truth, the first exile, due to the severity of the
nation’s transgressions, should have lasted longer. However, there was a
great danger if that would have happened. The nation of Israel was losing
its connection to its roots. The people were forgetting the Torah. They
stopped performing distinctive observances. They married members of the
other nations. The nation was in danger of losing its identity as the
nation of Israel. That spiraling decline had to be put to a quick halt.
Hashem, in His mercy, did just that.
Ezra arose to lead the people, and with the leaders of the generations
following him, they reestablished the preeminence of Torah in the lives of
the people. They instituted changes so that the Torah would not be
forgotten. When the second Temple was destroyed and the people found
themselves in exile once again, they were a different nation than the
exiles from the first destruction. They had been fortified in Torah over
years and years. The Torah was ingrained in their being. Their identity
was not at risk of being lost. The original exile, which needed to be cut
short, now continued. And that is where we find ourselves today.
God asked Avraham “What business do you have with My house – would you not
prefer that I exact my punishment on a building of stones rather than the
people? Avraham replied that if that was the case, where are the people?
Why were they exiled? Avraham was not troubled about his children being in
exile. He knew, as he entered into a covenant with God, that they would
eventually be redeemed from that exile. However, he was concerned about
the effect of that exile – what would the nation look like upon its
emergence from exile? Hashem had to allay his fears. He showed Avraham
that there would be a short exile and a long exile. He explained why they
were going into exile, and why the short exile would be short – the people
were losing their identity, they had lost their connection with God. The
nation was en masse engaged in vile behavior. They tried to hide their
circumcision, that bodily manifestation that distinguished them from the
other nations. They rejoiced in each other’s downfall. Rav Eibshitz notes
that the primary hatred was not based in the common citizen’s hatred of
his brethren, although that existed as well. The ones who were most
despised, whose downfall was most celebrated, were the scholars, those who
dutifully studied the Torah and adhered to its dictates. These behaviors,
in sum, amounted to an absolute rejection of Hashem and His Torah.
The Fast of the 10th of Teves recalls the beginning of the end. The series
of events that led to the destruction of the first Temple began:
Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. This fast occurs as
the remembrances of our last observance, Chanukah, have just begun to
fade. On Chanukah, we recall how a small group fought against the massive
pressure to drop their Jewish identity. Only a few days later, we fast to
recall the start of an exile that began for that very reason. We know that
fast days are intended to be days of introspection, days of repentance.
The fast of the 10th of Teves is a particularly appropriate time to
reflect on our Jewish identity. Do we act in a fashion that comports with
the description given to those in the nation of Israel as modest, merciful
and kind? Do we properly value and respect the Torah and its standard
bearers? The lessons of Chanukah and the 10th of Teves should serve to
make us a stronger nation, as individuals and as a whole.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yehudah Prero and Torah.org.
The author has Rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, NY.
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