One of the five tragedies we commemorate via fasting on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz is the fact that the walls of Yerushalayim were breached by the enemy; the first stage of the eventual fall of Yerushalayim and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The Shulchan Aruch[1] echoes the gemarra[2] in noting that in the era of the first Beis Hamikdash this breaching actually took place on the ninth of Tamuz, not the seventeenth. So where does the seventeenth come from? This was the date in which the walls were breached during the times of the second Beis Hamikdash. But the question arises; why do we fix the date according to the second Beis Hamikdash and not the first? The Shulchan Aruch answers this too; citing the Tur, he writes that ‘the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash is more difficult/tragic for us’ (she’churban bayis sheini chamir lan’). Why was the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash more of a tragedy than that of its predecessor?
The Maharsha[3] on the above gemarra offers a reason. He cites the gemarra in Yoma[4] which compares the sins of the generation of the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash to those of the generation of the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The gemarra asks whose sins were worse, and answers ‘let the Mikdash prove it,’ i.e. the first Beis Hamikdash was rebuilt after seventy years, whilst the second Beis Hamikdash is still to be rebuilt. It must therefore be that the sins which led to the destruction of the second Mikdash were worse. Therefore, says the Maharsha, the reason we fix Shiva Asar B’Tamuz in accordance with the breach during the era of the second Mikdash is because the sins which enabled such a breach to occur were worse during the second-Midkash era. This is a valid and decent explanation in and of itself, but it does not seem to fit the enigmatic explanation offered by the Shulchan Aruch. For the Shulchan Aruch’s words were ‘the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash is more difficult/tragic for us;’ if he was echoing the explanation of the Maharsha, he should have said ‘the sins which caused the destruction of the second Mikdash are more difficult/tragic for us.’ So our question resurfaces; what does the Shulchan Aruch (and the Tur) mean that the destruction of the second Mikdash was more of a tragedy for us?
Let’s first deepen this question somewhat. If one compares and contrasts the first and second Beis Hamikdash, one is struck by the fact that the first Mikdash occupied a much higher spiritual plane than the second. The first Beis Hamikdash was built by Shlomo HaMelech at a time when the Bnei Yisrael’s had their own sovereignty and their name was known worldwide. Furthermore, the first Mikdash’s dimensions were inch perfect to reflect the intricacies of the spiritual realm in ‘housing’ HaShem in this world. The second Beis Hamikdash, however, was built in two stages (more about that later) and the initial building was only started with the permission of Koresh (king of Persia); it occurred during a period in which we no longer had sovereignty and we did not even have our Land. Moreover, its dimensions were not as precise as its predecessor; it was a combination of the layout of the first Beis Hamikdash with the dimensions specified (relatively cryptically) in the prophecies of Yechezkal.[5] In addition, the gemarra[6] relates several key differences between the first and second Batei Mikdash; unlike its predecessor, the second Beis Hamikdash had no aron, no kapores, no keruvim, no Heavenly fire on the altar, no urim ve’tumim for the Kohen Gadol, no Shechinah, and eventually no prophets either. If the first Beis Hamikdash was the superior spiritually, why is the destruction of the second Mikdash more difficult for us?
We shall give two answers to our question; each complements the other.
The first answer centres around a crucial difference between the circumstances in which each Beis Hamikdash was built. The first Mikdash was built when Shlomo Hamelech’s empire was tranquil and secure; he had money to fund the building and there were virtually no hiccups along the way - everything went smoothly and he was not dependant upon anyone else in building the Mikdash. The building of the second Beis Hamikdash was just the opposite. The building began when Koresh gave permission for a few Jews to go from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael to build the Beis Hamikdash - but the vast majority of Jews remained in Bavel at this point. The Jews who left for Eretz Yisrael (including Chaggai Hanavi) began the building of the Mikdash, and staged a celebration at Sukkos time after they had laid the building’s foundations. However, the Kuthim (a nation who had converted to Judaism) did not want the Mikdash to be built, and managed to get Koresh to rescind his permission. It was not until several decades later that the work on the second Beis Hamikdash was restarted and completed; it took a prophecy from Chaggai years later to get the people to restart the building work. Thus, in many ways the building of the second Beis Hamikdash was our effort; it was not as simple as the first Mikdash, in which HaShem had Shlomo presented with an order to build the Mikdash and he set about building it. On the contrary, the second Mikdash was contingent upon permission from a non-Jewish king and the joy at the laying of the foundations was curtailed by the rescinding of the permission. And who brought about such a rescission? None other than a section of our own people (the kuthim) who we had allowed to convert in the first place. It was the very fact that the building of the second Mikdash took much more effort, and was fraught with struggle, disappointment, and ups and downs, that makes us consider it a more tragic loss than its predecessor. [As a parable, you get more upset when someone knocks down your pyramid of playing cards than when someone knocks over your (empty) plastic cup, because you expended effort on the former. So too is the former a greater ‘achievement’ due to the effort involved.]
Our second strand of answer comes via the Meshech Chochmah.[7] He writes that it is precisely because the second Mikdash had a lower spiritual voltage than the first Mikdash that the kedusha of the second Mikdash era lasted for longer than that of the first.[8] He compares this to a Kohen versus a Levi. A female Kohen who has certain forbidden relations can lose her status as a Kohen lady, whilst no such thing occurs with a Levi. The reason, he says, is because the Kohen has a higher spiritual status, and thus its kedusha is more flimsy and vulnerable. So too with the two Batei Mikdash; it was precisely because the second Mikdash was at a lower spiritual level than the first Mikdash that it was to be more permanent and durable - and this is why its destruction was so much more of a tragedy than that of the first Beis Hamikdash; for even a ‘durable’ Mikdash was shown to be capable of being destroyed.
In taking something practical out of this, we shall mention one aspect of tragedy; particularly spiritual tragedy. Rav Yonassan Eibshitz[9] notes that there are three stages of spiritual growth. First, HaShem puts everything on a plate for you; He makes things easy for you in achieving a spiritual goal. Then, He takes away that Divine help so you are made to do it by yourself and expend the effoer yourself (like a father who lets go of his child so that the child can learn to walk for himself). And the last stage is that you and HaShem ‘meet’ to accomplish things together. For example, Pesach was when HaShem did everything for us, then was the fifty days when we had to work on ourselves with less help from HaShem, and then we met at Shavuos. Thus, the star sign of Nissan is a sheep (an animal which must be led and has no power of itself), Iyar is a bull (the animal which does everything itself), and Sivan is twins (connoting an ‘equal-power meeting’). Similarly, the first Beis Hamikdash was essentially built by HaShem (with special siyata dishmaya and no hiccups), the second Mikdash was essentially left to us to build, whilst the third Beis Hamikdash will encompass both aspects; we will build what we can and then HaShem will complete the job.[10]
This is the role of (spiritual) tragedies; it is not pure punishment, but it is rather to get us to work on getting up to a spiritual level ourselves via our own effort, so we can really acquire the spiritual level and make it a part of us.
Have a meaningful three weeks,

[1] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 549:2
[2] Gemarra Ta’anis 28b
[3] Maharsha Ta’anis 28b ‘barishona’
[4] Gemarra Yoma 9b
[5] Rambam hilchos Beis Habechirah 1:4. The dimensions in Yechezkal are in perakim 40-42
[6] Gemarra Yoma 21b
[7] Meshech Chochmah 15:16
[8] kedusha rishona kidsha lesha’ata velo kidsha le’atid lavo, kedusha shniya kidsha lesha’ata vekidsha le’atid lavo; Rambam hilchos Beis Habechira 6:16.
[9] Ya’aros Dvash, drush on Elul
[10] Rav Nachum Partzovitz quoted by Rav Neventzal in Beyitzcahk Yikarei chelek beis siman 39, Aruch Laner Sukkah 41a.
 

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