1) AGADAH: THE EVENTS OF THE SEVENTEENTH OF TAMUZ AND THE NINTH OF AV -- MEASURE FOR MEASURE
The Mishnah (26a-26b) relates the five tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the five tragedies that befell them on the Ninth of Av. The Gemara (29a) explains that because of the terrible sin our forefathers committed in the times of Moshe Rabeinu on the Ninth of Av, that day became designated for destruction. Every year when that day arrives the sin of our forefathers is remembered.
A closer examination of the specific tragedies that occurred on these days reveals how Hash-m caused these events to happen based on the principle of "Midah k'Neged Midah" (punishment measure for measure).
(a) The Jewish people originally sinned on Tish'ah b'Av when they sent Meraglim to spy the land, and as a result of their malevolent report, the Jewish people rejected Eretz Yisrael. They gave up their desire for Eretz Yisrael and lost the motivation to conquer it, even though Hash-m had already informed them of its unique virtues.
The destruction of each Beis ha'Mikdash centuries later constituted far more than just the loss of the opportunity to perform the Avodos as commanded by the Torah. It was the event which, both symbolically and actually, marked the end of organized and autonomous Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael.
The Chachamim consider the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash and the concept of exile to be part and parcel of the same punishment. (See, for example, Berachos 3a and Chagigah 5b.) The Torah itself makes this connection: "I will destroy your sanctuary... and I will scatter you among the nations" (Vayikra 26:31-2). Because the Jewish people expressed on Tish'ah b'Av an unwillingness to accept the gift of Eretz Yisrael, they eventually lost that gift on the same date.
The city of Beitar was the central stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome (Eichah Rabasi 2). Some sixty years after the destruction of the second Beis ha'Mikdash, the Jews -- under the leadership of Bar Kochba -- attempted to throw off the yoke of Roman domination. They succeeded in establishing a virtually autonomous Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael for several years (132-135 C.E.). The Roman conquest of the city of Beitar, and the quelling of the Bar Kochba revolt, effectively represented the end of any hope of Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the fall of Beitar was an appropriate punishment for the sin of the spies and the nation's rejection of Eretz Yisrael.
The last of the five events of Tish'ah b'Av -- the final razing of Yerushalayim -- was designed to quash any hopes among the Jews for a restoration of their sovereignty. On the same date which marked the Jewish people's original rejection of Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael showed its own scorn, so to speak, for the Jewish people.
(b) The punishments for the sin of the Seventeenth of Tamuz were also meted measure for measure, Midah k'Neged Midah. The most obvious case was that of Menasheh's act of placing an idol in the Beis ha'Mikdash. This treacherous act symbolized the replacement of the worship of Hash-m with that of an idol -- in Hash-m's own Beis ha'Mikdash. Menasheh's act was a just punishment for the Jewish people who had committed the same sin when they built the Golden Calf at Har Sinai -- on the Seventeenth of Tamuz -- centuries earlier.
Because the Jews offered sacrifices to the Golden Calf on the Seventeenth of Tamuz, Hash-m caused the daily Tamid sacrifice to be discontinued on the Seventeenth of Tamuz.
The burning of the Torah by Epistemos was an appropriate punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf, which caused Moshe Rabeinu to shatter the Luchos. As a punishment for bringing about the destruction of Hash-m's Luchos on the Seventeenth of Tamuz, the Jews witnessed the burning of Hash-m's Torah by a blasphemous ruler on the Seventeenth of Tamuz.
The breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim was also an appropriate punishment for the sin committed on the Seventeenth of Tamuz. The Gemara in Bava Basra (7b) relates that the men of righteousness and Torah scholars of the generation provide protection for the entire community, like the wall of a city. The Gemara says that the verse, "I am a wall" (Shir ha'Shirim 8:10), refers to the Torah which affords protection to its people, and "my breasts are like towers" refers to Torah scholars. When the Jewish people rejected the leadership of Moshe Rabeinu and chose the Golden Calf to lead them instead, they showed disdain for the ultimate scholar of the Torah. Since Torah scholars are compared to city walls, a fitting punishment for their sin was the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim on the anniversary of their rejection of the greatest Torah scholar. (M. KORNFELD)
2) THE RETURN OF THE KEYS OF THE HEICHAL
QUESTION: The Beraisa relates that at the time of the destruction of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, the young Kohanim took the keys of the Heichal, ascended to the roof, and said, "Ribono Shel Olam! Since we did not merit to be trusted treasurers before You, these keys are being given to You!" They threw the keys heavenwards, and the form of a hand descended and took the keys. The young Kohanim then leaped into the flames.
A number of points in this account need explanation. First, why did the Kohanim throw only the keys of the Heichal up to the heavens? They could have thrown the keys of the Azarah as well.
Second, why did they throw the keys at all? The Heichal was already burning down and thus its keys were useless.
Third, the Gemara earlier (25a) teaches that Hash-m performs a miracle only to give something to the world. He does not take things through miracles. Why, then, did He take the keys from the young Kohanim?
It must be that the young Kohanim were trying to teach something through their symbolic act of throwing the keys up to the heavens. What were they trying to teach?
ANSWER: RAV YOSEF SALANT zt'l in BE'ER YOSEF explains as follows. The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) quotes Rabah bar Rav Huna who says that "any person who has Torah but does not have Yir'as Shamayim is comparable to a treasurer (Gizbar) to whom the keys to the inner chambers were entrusted but not the keys to the outer chambers." Just as the keys to the inner chambers are useless if one cannot get to those rooms since he does not have the keys to the outer chambers, so, too, a person's Torah is worthless if he does not have Yir'as Shamayim.
Rabah bar Rav Huna specifically uses the word "Gizbar" in his metaphor to allude to the Gizbarim in the Beis ha'Mikdash and the keys which they held.
The Gemara in Bava Basra (21a) says that the Chachamim enacted that teachers for young children be appointed in Yerushalayim so that the children would be brought to Yerushalayim to learn Torah in fulfillment of the verse, "Ki mi'Tziyon Tetzei Torah u'Dvar Hash-m mi'Yerushalayim..." -- "For Torah shall come forth from Tziyon, and the word of Hash-m from Yerushalayim" (Yeshayah 2:3). TOSFOS there adds that by learning Torah in Yerushalayim, "the child would see the great holiness there, he would see the Kohanim involved in the Avodah, and his heart would be inspired to Yir'as Shamayim and he would develop a great yearning to learn Torah." (Tosfos cites support from the Sifri which says that the Mitzvah of Ma'aser Sheni is especially great because it leads to Talmud Torah: by requiring the people to come to Yerushalayim, the Mitzvah of Ma'aser Sheni enables them to see all of the people involved in Avodas Hash-m and they become inspired as well.)
The different parts of the Beis ha'Mikdash had different influences on the people who witnessed the Avodah there. When the people would come to the Azarah and see everyone involved in the service of Hash-m in holiness and purity -- the Kohanim as they performed the Avodah, the Leviyim as they sang and played their instruments, and the Yisraelim involved in the Ma'amados -- they would be profoundly moved and inspired to reach great levels of Yir'as Shamayim.
Hence, the Azarah was the source of Avodas Hash-m and Yir'as Shamayim. The Azarah was the pipeline, so to speak, through which Hash-m sent Yir'as Shamayim into the world.
The Heichal, on the other hand, represented the light of Torah and wisdom. The Heichal contained the Menorah, which was lit with pure olive oil and emanated an untainted light unto the world. The Heichal was the pipeline through which Hash-m sent to the world wisdom, Chochmah, the ability to fathom the depths of the Torah and to be guided by its light.
Therefore, the Azarah, which represented Yir'as Shamayim, was outside of the Heichal, which represented Torah. The only way to enter the Heichal was by going through the Azarah. Rabah bar Rav Huna states that the only way to attain true growth in Torah is through Yir'as Shamayim. One who learns Torah but does not have Yir'as Shamayim is like a Gizbar of the Beis ha'Mikdash who has the keys to the Heichal but not the keys to the Azarah. The keys to the Heichal are worthless without the keys to the Azarah. Without Yir'as Shamayim, one's Torah learning is meaningless.
When the Heichal was destroyed, the wellspring through which Chochmah flowed into the world was blocked. As a result, it became far more difficult to comprehend the wisdom of the Torah. In place of the natural flow of Chochmah into the world which the Heichal provided, other means of attaining Chochmah would have to be found. This is the intention of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, who teaches that if a person seeks to attain wisdom, he must not only minimize his involvement in business and maximize the time that he learns, but he must also pray for mercy from Hash-m to give him wisdom (Nidah 70b). Tefilah, prayer, took the place of the Heichal as the means of attaining Chochmah in this world.
This was the intention of the young Kohanim when they took the keys of the Heichal and threw them heavenward. They were showing that from the time of the Churban, the keys to attaining Chochmah have returned to Hash-m, and the only way to attain Chochmah is by devoting one's heart to Hash-m in prayer and beseeching Him to open his heart and light up his eyes in the beauty of the Torah.
This is why they threw only the keys of the Heichal. Only those keys were going back to Hash-m. The keys to the Azarah -- that is, the keys to Yir'as Shamayim -- remain here with us in this world even after the Churban, because "everything is in the hands of Shamayim except for Yir'as Shamayim" (Berachos 33b; see Rashi to Nidah 16b). Since the attainment of Yir'as Shamayim is in the hands of man, the Kohanim did not throw the keys of the Azarah heavenward. They threw only the keys of the Heichal. They thereby showed that the source of Chochmah in the world has been destroyed, and until the Beis ha'Mikdash is rebuilt our ability to comprehend the depths of the Torah is lacking and the only means to compensate is through Tefilah. (Heard from Rav Kalman Weinreb, shlit'a.)
3) THE DEATHS OF THE YOUNG KOHANIM
QUESTION: The Beraisa relates that at the time of the destruction of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, the young Kohanim took the keys of the Heichal, ascended to the roof, and said, "Ribono Shel Olam! Since we did not merit to be trusted treasurers before You, these keys are being given to You!" They threw the keys heavenwards, and the form of a hand descended and took the keys. The young Kohanim then leaped into the flames.
Were the Kohanim wrong in killing themselves, or was there some Halachic basis for their action? (See Insights to Avodah Zarah 18:1.)
ANSWERS:
(a) In order to avoid being tortured and forced to abandon Torah and Mitzvos one is permitted to kill himself, as in the case of Shaul and Yehonasan. (See Gitin 57b, DA'AS ZEKEINIM to Bereishis 9:5, and TOSFOS to Avodah Zarah 18a, DH v'Al.)
(b) The Gemara in Kesuvos (103b) relates that a certain "washer," upon hearing news of the death of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi, ascended to his roof and "fell" to his death. A Bas Kol announced that this washer merited life in Olam ha'Ba.
RAV YAKOV EMDEN asks why did he merit Olam ha'Ba? One explanation that he gives is that the death of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi was so traumatic to this simple Jew that he went out of his mind. He did not consciously choose, with his working faculties, to throw himself off of the roof, and indeed he only "fell." He therefore was not held accountable for his death but was credited with having reached such a degree of greatness that the death of the Torah sage caused him such tremendous anguish. (See also SHEVUS YAKOV 2:101.)
Here, too, perhaps the Kohanim jumped into the flames out of unbearable anguish over the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash, and their action was not considered a conscious act.

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