“Comfort, Comfort My People…”

The haftarah for this week is taken from Isaiah, who declares: “Nachamu, nachamu Ami-Comfort, comfort My people, says your G-d.”

This is a call to the prophets to comfort the Jewish people for their suffering in exile.

The repetition of the word comfort is explained by Abarbanel as a reference to the two Holy Temples that were destroyed. The third Temple will comfort us for the loss of both earlier Temples.

Our Sages teach us that the Temples were destroyed for different reasons. The first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians primarily for idol worship by the Jewish nation.  The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans because of a senseless hatred that afflicted the Jewish people at that time. Thus, the third Temple will channel a spirit of devotion to the ideal of unadulterated monotheism and will also foster a spirit of unparalleled brotherhood and love.

A question that may be raised is: If the destruction of the two Temples had different causes, how will the building of the third Temple correct both sins? Shouldn’t there be two Temples, each one to rectify a different sin of the past?

In order for us to appreciate the comforting influence of the third Temple we must delve more deeply into the root causes of the destruction of the two Temples. Upon further analysis it will become clear that both Temples were destroyed for the same underlying reason although it manifested itself in two distinct ways.

Different Forms of Idolatry

As previously stated, the first Temple was destroyed primarily due to the sin of idol worship. However, our Sages teach us that the Men of the Great Assembly prayed to G-d to remove the attraction of idolatry, and their request was granted. However, while the literal form of idol worship was abolished, there are other more subtle forms of idolatry that continue to compromise our relationship with G-d and will be fully rectified with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash.

Among the alternate forms of idol worship that concerned our Sages included: inflated ego, anger and the worship of money.

Another form of idolatry is the fanatical attachment to a secular political philosophy. We are witness today to members of political parties who have supplanted religion and religious zeal with extreme devotion and unquestioning allegiance to a political ideology. Total devotion of this kind is, and should remain, the province of religion.  Although involvement in the political system is not contrary to Torah, a blind allegiance is.

One way to test whether one’s affiliation with a philosophy is a form of idolatry is to ask whether the person in question embraces a political party’s platform lock, stock and barrel. Another test is whether they are willing to question their own philosophy and be prepared to abandon it when they see its flaws. A third test is whether they consistently demonize any competing philosophy.

By definition, most secular philosophies are a mixture of good and evil. The good parts were, at one point or another, inspired by the Torah’s ideals as they directly or indirectly influence secular ideologies. However, because these philosophies are man-made, they will, of necessity, have an admixture of positive and negative ideas. The differences between various secular philosophies relate to the ratio of negative versus positive; that question is one in which reasonable people can disagree.

Underlying the idolatry of secularism is the inflated ego. When people are entirely self-absorbed they become fanatical about their beliefs. The Bais Hamikdash will, therefore, instill a G-dly awareness which will supplant our selfish and self-centered obsessions.

Similarly, anger and the obsessive pursuit of money can also be traced to an inflated ego. Anger is generally a feeling that one’s honor or personhood has been affronted. A truly humble person will not take an insult to heart. Moreover, anger comes from a lack of belief that G-d is behind everything that happens (although the perpetrator of the insult will be held accountable for choosing to be G-d’s instrument to insult another). Thus, anger can be said to be the product of an inflated ego.  It is a subtle form of denial of G-d’s role and a compromised understanding of G-d’s exclusivity.

Likewise the obsession with money is a form of idolatry. It has been pointed out that money and material possessions are the only things which some people feel they can never get enough of. While they may pamper their bodies with food, drugs, etc., there is a limit how much physical pleasure the body can endure. When it comes to money and possessions, however, the Talmud states that “one who has a hundred wants two hundred and the one who has two hundred wants four hundred.” The thirst for money grows exponentially; the more one has, the more one wants.

The Obsession for Money

Where does this obsession with money stem from?

Upon deep reflection we can see that it actually stems from one’s G-dly soul which, when not concealed by the Animal Soul, has an insatiable thirst to get closer to G-d. The Animal soul, sensing this passion, appropriates and usurps this energy and converts it into a voracious thirst for money and material possessions.

We can now understand the deeper meaning of the third level of the love of G-d that we declare in the Shema: ‘Love G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”  Our Sages interpreted “with all your might” in the Mishnah as a direction to love G-d “with all your money” and is addressed squarely to one who is obsessed with money. Why would the Torah have to mention this when it already commands us to love G-d with all our soul? The answer is that there is no greater force of love, at least in some segments of society, than for the love of money. The Torah therefore exhorts us to return that phenomenal power of love to its true provenance, which is the love of G-d.

Senseless Hatred

Having established that the ego-obsessed mentality is the root of all forms of idolatry, we move on to the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, which is, as we have cited above, the sin of senseless hatred.

Even a cursory analysis of this sin reveals that this sin is the product of an inflated ego. It happens when a person’s ego is so overwhelming that he or she cannot tolerate the existence of another. In the perverted mind of an egotist there is no room for the other; to him everyone else appears to be a trespasser.

A Jew once came to his Rebbe and complained that everyone in his synagogue stepped on him. The Rebbe responded, ‘if you wouldn’t spread yourself out through the entire synagogue people would have room to step without stepping on you…”

Both the Temples Destroyed for Same Reason

In light of the above, it emerges that, in truth, both Temples were destroyed for the same reason; the same ego that causes a person to pledge fanatical allegiance to his or her own interests and allegiances is also the one that causes a person to be unable to tolerate the existence of others.

Both idolatry and senseless hatred stem from an inflated ego. In one case it manifests itself by deifying the things that provide for one’s needs and wants. In the other case it does not allow for the recognition of the other.

The third Temple will bring us double comfort. It will allow G-d’s presence to shine unobstructed. This will keep our egos in check and allow us to be singularly devoted to serving one G-d in a spirit of brotherhood and love. Senseless hatred will become senseless love. 

Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

Published in Parsha

Have a question on this topic? Ask the Rabbi

Questions will be responded to in the order they are received. Please allow some time for responses.
Your name and email address will not be published.