Rosh Hodesh Av Torah Essay
As we enter the month of Av, in the midst of the three weeks and building up to Tisha B’Av, we can reflect on the descriptions and analogies in the Gemara relating to the Churban as we contemplate the relevance of this time period for us today.
There are three particular descriptions in the Gemara that Rav Aryeh Leibowitz points out as puzzling.
Firstly, in Massechet Gitin, נגa, the Gemara tells of Titus destroying the Beit HaMikdash and describes his actions using the imagery of קמחא דטחנא טחן – that Titus ground flour which had already been ground. Why does the Gemara choose this imagery as opposed to something more reminiscent of the churban – for example burning the Beit Hamikdash to ashes?
Secondly, in Massechet Brachot, וb the gemara explains that the coming together of a bride and groom in marriage is as if they are rebuilding the Beit HaMikdash. On the one hand this makes sense – the idea is that the more neshamot that are brought together, the sooner Mashiach will come. But why does the Gemara choose the imagery of a bride and groom as opposed to the birth of a child – a new neshama for the Jewish people?
The third question arises from Sanhedrin צחb where the Gemara tries to characterize what the Mashiach will be like. The Gemara describes Mashiach as someone who is poor and is suffering from tzaraat -leprosy. Why does the Gemara use this particular struggle to describe Mashiach? While it is generally understood that when the Gemara describes Mashiach it is a reflection of the state of B’nei Yisrael, the question still stands. Why, in the times leading up to Mashiach, are B’nei Yisrael described as being poor and having tzaraat?
The answers to these questions can be derived from a beautifully simple idea of Rav Aharon Lapiansky’s. Rav Lapiansky points out that the word churban, destruction, has the same root letters as chibur, connection. The root of a Hebrew word is significant and often telling. Let’s explore what the connection might be between these two words.
As we know, the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred among the Jewish people. There are two ways in which something can be destroyed – it can either be completely broken apart or it can be dismembered, a type of destruction where individual parts lack chibur. As a result of the churban, the Beit HaMikdash was completely broken apart and destroyed – the physical place was no longer. One of the consequences for the Jewish people was lack of chibur – they no longer had a physical and spiritual place with which to connect. The churban of the Beit HaMikdash, encapsulated both types of destruction.
Why then do we use the imagery of Titus grinding the flour as opposed to imagery of burning? When you grind grain into flour, you’re left with all of the raw material – it hasn’t been destroyed, rather its form has been altered. The flour is there but when it’s ground it lacks chibur. If you pull it together you can create something with it; in effect you can rebuild it. It isn’t gone forever.
Perhaps the Gemara in Brachot focuses on marriage as a means of bringing about redemption and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, as opposed to the birth of a child, because it is the chibur, connection between two people, who will shape a life and home together, renewing, strengthening, reconnecting B’nei Yisrael to one another and to the whole.
And finally why is Mashiach described as a poor metzora? The characteristic of tzaraat is that it isolates the individual, separating him from the rest of the community. Similarly, a poor person is not inherently deficient, he just lacks the access – chibur – to the necessities that exist around him. Once again, these struggles are symbolic of lack of chibur.
So in each case we see the interplay between chibur and churban – the lack of chibur, on many levels, was a cause of the churban. Sinat Chinam brought about a disconnect between the people and led to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. Our goal as a nation, particularly as we approach Tisha B’Av, is to reestablish that chibur – between one another and between the Jewish people and God, and to bring about the redemption במהרה בימינו.