Deeper Roots as the Plot Thickens
Five things happened to our ancestors on the 9th of Av: 1) It was decreed that our parents would not enter the Land [of Israel], 2) The first Temple was destroyed, 3) The second Temple was destroyed, 4) Beitar was conquered, 5) The city [Jerusalem] was plowed – Mishne Taanit 26b
Three weeks ago this space addressed the five roots of trauma embedded in the five tragic events that took place on the 17th of Tammuz. This week we will examine five deeper roots hinted to in the five tragedies of the 9th of Av.
But first, a little introductory review (for more elaboration, please see the article Five Roots of Trauma). To truly solve any life problem, it is always best to not just suffice with symptoms, but to heal the root of the problem, and thereby eliminate the possibility of re-occurrence.
As a blueprint for life the Torah helps illuminate for us the root-origins of all our challenges and difficulties. This allows us to not limit ourselves to patching things up with “band-aids” and temporary “pain relievers,” but to root out and eradicate the entire “infection.”
The sad events of this time of year – the period called the “Three Weeks,” beginning on the 17th of Tammuz and concluding on the 9th of Av – in reality offer us tools to uncover the underlying factors and forces that shape the negative patterns in our lives. As we relive the sadness of this time of year, we are not merely indulging in centuries old grief; we are in effect retracing the steps in history that have led us to – and shaped – our present time. We are retracing the historical, psychological and spiritual roots of all our ills and problems today – personal, social and global.
Above all, by uncovering the origins of our troubles, we can then truly heal ourselves and the world, which in essence is the work following Tisha B’Av: To bring comfort and consolation to our broken hearts and to an ailing universe.
On the 17th of Tammuz five tragic events took place that shed light on five root causes for trauma (as discussed in the above mentioned article). Had we learned our lessons from these events and healed them in a timely fashion, we would not have needed a Tisha B’Av and its five tragedies. Had, for instance, the Jews not built the Golden Calf, Moses would then not have broken the Tablets, and all of history would have changed. There no doubt would not have been the sin of the scouts that led to the decree that the people not enter Israel, and there would not have been the destruction of the Temple (see Talmud, Eruvin 54a).
Since we did not entirely root out the five traumas of the 17th of Tammuz, we now have to dig deeper and uncover even more fundamental roots, which are ingrained in the events of Tisha B’Av. Hence, following the five events of the 17th of Tammuz, the Mishne continues and lists the five for the 9th of Av:
1. It was decreed that our parents would not enter the Land [of Israel].
On the 29th of Sivan Moses sent out scouts to survey Israel in preparation of its conquest. 40 days later, on Tisha B’Av, they return with their terrible report, declaring that we are too weak to conquer the land; Israel is a “land that consumes its inhabitants. The scouts incite and demoralize the entire nation, and that night of Tisha B’Av becomes a night of tears and grief (“The entire community rose in uproar and begin to cry; the people wept that night” – Numbers 14:1). G-d then said to them: “You wept (that night) for no reason; I will designate (that night as) a weeping for generations…” (Talmud, Taanit 29a). Tisha B’Av becomes the night and day when both Temples are destroyed, Beitar is vanquished and Jerusalem is plowed.
[Other tragedies as well occurred on this day: The final date for the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The beginning of World War I. And other events].
Clearly, the decree of not entering the Land was a major event that led to all the other escalating tragedies of Tisha B’Av.
What is the essence of this event? The scouts basically argued that we cannot possibly integrate spirituality into a materialistic land. The sheer nature of materialism, they argued, is too corrupt, too selfish, to be receptive to anything sublime. Not only can we not conquer it, but this land is one “that consumes its inhabitants.”
Now, their argument was not only sensible but realistic. Is there someone that would deny the fact that the market place, and in general the materialistic universe, conquers us all? Who has not been humbled by the forces of life, who has not been compromised by the pressures of survival, who has not conformed to the demands of the marketplace – who is not “for sale”?
But, there’s one problem. It is G-d that sent us here and charged us with the mission not only not to succumb, but to transform the physical universe. As “practical” as the scouts were, they basically defied the very essence of G-d’s mission to us human beings on Earth: “I have sent your soul to the material on a mission,” G-d in effect is telling us. “That mission is for you to take your physical corner of the universe – your time, space and experiences – and transform it into a vehicle, a channel for the Divine.” Our mission, in brief, is: To integrate spirit and matter.
No man, no person has the right to question the possibility whether we can accomplish the mission; our role is to figure out how to do it, but not to challenge the very premise. Because once we do, we essentially are giving up on life. Yes, life undoubtedly is difficult; we live in a cruel universe. Much pain and misery. Many reasons to give up. But we were simultaneously given all the necessary tools to change the world, and not be overcome by it.
The scouts then proceeded to arouse all the fears and insecurities of the entire nation, and they ended up weeping all night.
G-d does not punish; G-d responds. The universe is one of cause and effect. “You – the people – don’t want to enter the Promised Land. You don’t believe all my promises to you and your ancestors. You are overcome by fear – that demonstrates that you are unable, and don’t deserve, to enter the Promised Land.”
“It is you own weakness and fears that projects and does not allow you to enter and conquer the land. As a result, this fear – this weeping for no reason – will cause you to weep for generations on this night of Tisha B’Av.”
Once someone decides (G-d forbid) that he or she cannot fulfill their life mission, that s/he cannot integrate matter and spirit, that person in effect creates an inevitable dichotomy within themselves and the world around them – a dichotomy of soul and body, matter and spirit, a split between the sacred and the secular.
And this brings on the decree that this person cannot enter the Promised Land, i.e. cannot realize his/her dreams and aspirations.
And this results in all the other effects of Tisha B’Av, the next four events, which all reflect a progressive break down of the structures around us that cannot survive once matter and spirit have been torn asunder. Can anything survive if its body and soul are not aligned? Can you have true inner happiness if you are afraid of your mission, if you do not have seamlessness between your spiritual and material sides?
This awareness allows us the ability to begin to heal and mend our internal and external dichotomies and schisms (yes, yet another “ism,” perhaps the root of them all).
2. The first Temple was destroyed
Now that the first root (being unable to enter the Promised Land and fulfill life’s mission to make a home for G-d in the physical universe) has exposed the breach between matter and spirit, this rift begins to expand.
Its first casualty is the destruction of the first Temple. As some of our holy books write that had Moses entered the Promised Land, the Temple he would have built would never have been destroyed (see Megaleh Amukot 185. Alsheich, Ohr HaChaim at the beginning of Parshat Vaetchanan).
The Temple was a bridge between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the material. The first Temple, which corresponded to Abraham (chesed), was a bridge that primarily brought heaven down to earth. While the second Temple (corresponding to Isaac, gevurah) primarily lifted earth to heaven. The first Temple is compared to the first Tablets – the work of tzaddikim, who draw the light downward. The second Temple is like the second Tablets – the work of baalei teshuvah, who initiate and raise that which is below upward.
The first Temple was destroyed primarily because of sins between man and G-d; the second Temple primarily because of baseless hatred between people (Yoma 9b).
In the split between heaven and earth, the first step is when we get disconnected from G-d. When we stop recognizing that we have a Higher Reality to answer to, a power greater than ourselves, we inevitably become consumed with our own selfish needs. Once the people lost sight of their Divine mission, the inevitable result was the compromise and ultimate destruction of the first Temple – the bridge between the people on Earth with heaven.
3. The second Temple was destroyed
As the effects of the schism between matter and spirit continue to deteriorate, the next effect it has is on our relationship with each other.
If you are not at peace with yourself, if your body and soul are not in harmony, you will not be at peace with other people.
The destruction of the second Temple was because of baseless hatred between people. And this destruction is deeper and more powerful than that of the first Temple. G-d can forgive people’s crimes against G-d, hence the destruction of the first Temple lasted only 70 years. But once it reaches a point of divisiveness, that we begin to hate each other, that causes a destruction that we don’t see an end to (see Talmud Yoma ibid), one that has already lasted 1948 years…
Even if we have sinned against G-d, there is still hope if people are united with each other. “Welcoming guests is greater than greeting G-d.” G-d imbued unity between people with a special power that allows them to overcome adversary, and to reach a deeper connection with G-d as well. But once that unity is breached, then there remains little defense against our enemies.
And make no mistake about it. A person cannot have a relationship with G-d if they don’t love other people. Because if you love G-d then you love that which G-d loves – and G-d loves His creatures.
This is the lesson from the third tragedy of Tisha B’Av, the destruction of the second Temple: The destructive force of baseless hatred – which is a direct result from a split within ourselves (a form of “self-hate”); and its antidote is only baseless love.
4. Beitar was conquered
Beitar was the last fortress to hold out against the Romans during the Bar Kochba revolt in the year 135. Beitar was a great city that had tens of thousands of Jews, and it had a great leader that was considered Moshiach by all the leaders of the time. When Beitar fell to the Romans and all its residents were killed, it was considered as tragic as the destruction of the Temple itself (Rambam, Hilchot Taanit 5:3).
As long as Beitar stood, there was still a remnant of hope that the Temple’s destruction could be reversed. Once it fell, 67 years after the destruction of the second Temple, it sealed the fate of the people and the destruction became an irreversible finality.
In the psycho-spiritual realm the fall of Beitar represents the next decline in the progressive break down resulting from the matter/spirit dichotomy. Beitar symbolizes the “last stronghold” within us that still allows us hope.
Even after you may have lost your innocence and allowed your life to become compartmentalized, split between your body and your soul, between your physical life and your spiritual one, there always remains at least one “bastion,” which allows you to make your “final stand.” The fall of Beitar is the shattering of last hopes and our last reserve of strength.
[In Kabbalistic terminology: The first Temple is Binah, the second Temple is Malchut and Beitar is the level of division that takes place in the worlds of Biy”a (Beriyah, Yetzirah, Asiyah). The two Temples are both levels within the unity of Atzilut, with the first Temple being a revelation from above and the second one a revelation below. But Beitar is already a stage after the destruction of the unity between heaven and earth, a stage where divisiveness exists; yet it is a remaining bastion that still carries the energy of the earlier unity (see Ohr HaTorah Lech Lecho (vol. 1) 83b. Shir HaShirim p. 357)].
What this means for us is that we must never, ever allow our last “stronghold” to fall. Whatever it takes we must hold on to hope, and not allow our past disappointments, no matter how profound, to dictate our future.
5. The city [Jerusalem] was plowed
The final breakdown is when the Romans (three years after the fall of Beitar) plowed the city of Jerusalem, completely leveling everything in the city. This was the ultimate humiliation: Total annihilation of any memory, and remnant of the greatness that once stood there.
The most sacred place on Earth, the spot from where Adam was created, Noah brought his offering, Abraham brought Isaac, Jacob had his famous dream, the place that King David designated and King Solomon built the Temple – the Holy of Holies and the center of the universe – the area that till today remains the center for billions of people. What did the Romans do? They plowed it down to oblivion, as if to say that nothing ever existed here. As long as the ruins can be seen, there is still a memory of the past; but plowing is finality, a total and absolute obliteration.
This is the lowest point a person can reach, when you feel that your entire identity has been annihilated. When you feel so absolutely lost, that you no longer feel who you are. All sense of self has been lost.
In earlier stages, even if there is a dichotomy between body and soul, you still can identify yourself, albeit a split identity, but some form of recognition. Then there comes a stage when your “identity” and ‘self” gets plowed to the point of absolute erasure of who you thought you were.
That’s the bad news; the good news is that therein lays the cure as well. Sometimes one needs to hit “rock bottom” in order to recognize that his/her life is not working and requires change.
What is fascinating about this level of destruction is that the Mishne uses the word “plow,” evidently based on the verse in Micha “Zion will be plowed under like a field” (3:12).
We plow a field in order to make it grow. Plowing the earth breaks up the soil, removes weeds and rocks, rejuvenates the nutrients and prepares the ground for sowing and allowing the seeds to take hold.
So yes, on one hand the plowing of the city was a tragedy of enormous proportions, especially considering the intentions of the Romans. On the other hand, plowing is a vital step in the regeneration and the new growth that would emerge from this very ground.
Plowing implies removing from our lives the “weeds” and “rocks,” the negative elements of our personalities that impede our own growth. Plowing includes completely leveling a negative past so that you can begin anew, and build something better and greater. Plowing means swallowing false pride, eliminating obstacles – clearing the ground, so that a new structure can be built upon it.
This is why Rabbi Akiva laughed when the others sages cried upon seeing a fox running out of the place which was once the Holy of Holies (Talmud, end of Makot). The other sages only saw the plowed land, leaving a barren and desolate area, with nothing apparent. Rabbi Akiva with his special eyes saw the growth that would come out of the plowing. As he told his colleagues:
“For that very reason, I am laughing. Isaiah the Prophet said (8:2), ‘I will bring two reliable witnesses regarding my People, Uriah the Priest and Zechariah ben Yevarech’yahu.’ Now what do Uriah and Zecharya have to do with each other? Uriah prophesied in the time of the First Temple, and Zechariah in the time of the Second Temple! But the verse in Isaiah makes Zechariah’s prophecy dependent on Uriah’s. In Uriah’s case, it is written, ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed under like a field.’ In Zechariah we find (8:4-5), ‘Yet again, elderly men and elderly women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem…(and the streets of the city will be full of children, playing in her streets).’ Until I saw the fulfillment of Uriah’s prophecy, I had some doubt as to whether Zechariah’s prophecy would come true. Now that I have seen Uriah’s prophecy fulfilled in full detail, I know that Zechariah’s prophecy will also be fulfilled.’”
Hearing that, Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues said to him, ‘Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva, you have comforted us.’
Five roots of trauma – five sources of growth, with the final one plowing the ground to allow for the emergence of a new world.
And we have Rabbi Akiva – and some others in history – to remind and comfort us that something lies beneath the plowed earth.
What we want now is not just comfort, but to see it with our own eyes.