The first Beit HaMikdash, built by Shlomo HaMelech, stood for approximately 410 years, between 832 and 422 BCE. During most of that time, the Jews inhabited the land, and—at least, in the kingdom of Judah—were free to worship as they pleased. Korbanot were brought on a daily basis, unremittingly, until Nevuchadnetzar destroyed the Beit HaMikdash and brought about Galut Bavel, the Babylonian Exile. According to Chazal, (Yoma 9b) the first Beit HaMikdash was destroyed due to the “Big Three” sins of Avodah Zarah (idol worship), Giluy Arayot (forbidden sexual relationships), and Shefichut Damim (bloodshed). The second Beit HaMikdash, on the other hand, was destroyed purely because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred for one another. By combining aspects of this week’s Parashah, Haftarah, and an insight from Avraham Avinu, perhaps we can understand how these two destructive behaviors are really not that different from each other.
Towards the end of Parashat Eikev, the Torah records nine Pesukim that have become part of one of the most iconic Jewish Tefillot: the second paragraph of Shema. The Pesukim describe a simple reward and punishment system—observe Hashem’s commandments and the land will flourish; fail to do so, and the land will be desolate, and Bnei Yisrael will be removed. Bnei Yisrael are told that if they worship idols “VeCharah Af Hashem Bachem… VaAvadetem Meheirah MeiAl HaAretz HaTovah Asher Hashem Notein Lachem,” “And Hashem’s anger will be kindled against you… and you shall be removed speedily from the good land that Hashem has given you” (Devarim 11:17). Sadly, this pattern has been repeated countless times throughout history. Almost the entirety of Sefer Shofetim follows the same pattern: a long period of quiet is followed by degeneration into Avodah Zarah, resulting in oppression and subjugation, until a Shofeit comes along to usher in the next period of relative peace. Of course, the most extreme example of this patern is the aforementioned Galut Bavel, the cause of which the Rabbis ascribe to—among other things—Avodah Zarah.
This week’s Haftarah comes from Yishayahu, who prophesied before and after the end of Galut Bavel. Additionally, this Haftarah is the second in the series of seven “comforting” Haftarot between Tish’ah BeAv and Rosh HaShanah. The general theme of these Haftarot is the ultimate redemption: though things may seem bad now, Mashiach will ultimately come and bring about redemption. Yishayahu, prophesying in Galut, does not hesitate to include some elements of criticism, but he spins his critiques to include hopeful elements as well. Even so, two Pesukim at the end of the Haftarah seem out of place: “Shimu Eilay… MiVakshei Hashem, Habitu El Tzur Chutzavtem VeEl Makevet Bor NuKartem. Habitu El Avraham Avichem…,” “Hear me… those who seek out Hashem, look to the rock from which you were hewn, look to the pit from which you were dug. Look to Avraham your forefather…” (Yishayahu 51:1-2). If Yishayahu wanted to bring these people back to Hashem, people exiled for Avodah Zarah, why would a refutation of foreign gods not be more appropriate? Furthermore, how is the first Pasuk related to Avraham Avinu?
The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (14b) teaches that Avraham Avinu composed a four-hundred chapter treatise refuting Avodah Zarah. This treatise does not spend time discussing idols, but rather devotes its pages to combating arrogance and pride—the true sources of Avodah Zarah. Perhaps, with this in hand, we can identify the connection between Yishayahu and the two Churbanot. Yishayahu enjoins those who seek Hashem to look to the “rock from which they were hewn,” and the “pit from which they were dug.” When man forgets his humble past, he is doomed to fall prey to arrogance and pride. Only once he remembers that he comes from the dust of the earth can man escape these horrid traits. This is why Yishayahu follows his plea with a reference to Avraham. Avraham Avinu spent four- hundred chapters combating Avodah Zarah by targeting pride and arrogance. It is this pride and arrogance, the sources of Avodah Zarah, that Yeshayahu wishes to combat when he rallies Bnei Yisrael for the soon to be redemption. Unfortunately, Bnei Yisrael ultimately fall prey to the same mistake. Like idol worship, arrogance and pride—the belief that oneself is inherently more worthy that one’s fellow—is the source of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. If people respect one another and do not hold lofty opinions of themselves, truly baseless hatred cannot exist. This week, let us combat any arrogance and pride we may hold, and thus begin to reverse the mistakes of our ancestors. Only then can we rally around Hashem, as Yeshayahu called for, and bring about redemption.