1. "Righteous" Jews
2. "Each According to his Camp"
3. A Family of Priests
4. Hasmonean Kingship: A Tragic Mistake
In his introduction to the Book of Genesis, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the "Netziv," sheds light on the following verse: "The deeds of the Mighty One are perfect, for all His ways are just. He is a faithful God, never unfair; righteous and moral is He. Destruction is His children's fault, not His own, you warped and twisted generation" (Deuteronomy 32:4,5). According to the Netziv, these words refer to the Second Temple era. Yet, we know for a fact that the Jews of the Second Temple were learned in Torah and meticulous in the fulfillment of Mitzvoth. If this was the case, why then was the Temple destroyed?
The Temple was destroyed because the Jews of that generation were not well-disposed towards one another in their every-day dealings. They suspected each other of heresy, and fostered inner hatred. As a result, Jews stumbled into groundless hatred - a hatred which in turn led to the complete destruction of the House of Israel. The Almighty refuses tolerate "righteous" who are not genuinely kind; He therefore brought on the Destruction.
The Netziv, then, provides us with an explanation for the destruction of the Temple. Yet we are left with the question: Where did the Torah leaders in those days go wrong? How did they allow themselves to stumble into the pit of hatred, and why did their Torah study not protect them?
"Each According to his Camp"
We may perhaps explain what happened by referring to the blessings given to the Twelve Tribes by Jacob, and later by Moses. Each tribe received a special blessing for itself, a blessing which indicated that tribe's unique role amongst the other tribes. Each tribe bore its own banner, and the symbol on each banner indicated the task and designation of that particular tribe. The tribe of Issachar - Torah; the tribe of Judah - kingship; the Tribe of Zevulun - industry; the Tribe of Naftali - agility, etc. In keeping with these attributes, and according to Divine Providence, the hereditary portions of land were allocated; each of the tribes was presented with a portion in that area most suited to its deep-down nature.
The priests were unique in that they, unlike the other tribes, received no hereditary portion of land. This fact demonstrates that they really had no individual task within the life of the nation. Their role was to fill the entire House of Israel with faith and justice, "each according to his camp; each conforming to his banner," so that the service of each individual in his own setting be for the sake of Heaven. All the same, as emissaries whose role it was to instill each level and aspect of the House of Israel with sanctity and justice, they also incorporated something of the characteristics of each and every one of the holy tribes of Israel. To their roots, then, were interwoven the roots of Torah, kingship, industry, agility, etc.
A Family of Priests
At the beginning of the Second Temple era, with the appearance of the Redemption via the settling the Land and the construction of the Temple, true national expression was wanting because only a small number of the exiled chose to return. Lacking organs, the Jewish nation was unable to fully exhibit itself. As a result, Israel's attribute of kingship was lost. The Kingdom of Israel can find no genuine expression without the entire nation's presence on the soil of Eretz Israel.
With the Greek Empire's rise to greatness and the Persian kingdom's stepping off of the stage of history, the House of Israel reached a point of crisis. The Greek empire, which took upon itself the task of presenting civilization with spiritual values and giving meaning to existence accordance to its own unique way of viewing things, saw in the Jews an intolerable competitor. The clear and sturdy spiritual values which breathed in the Jewish people showed no signs of bowing before Hellenistic culture, despite its wealth of great scientists and philosophers. And so, in order to break Israel's might, the Greeks resorted to their great strength - the kingship. By doing so, they aspired to shatter the underpinnings of the Jewish people's faith. What Hellenism failed to accomplish through intellect and spirit, they attempted to attain by way of military prowess.
When the dark shadow of the Greek Empire threatened to stretch itself out over the entire land, salvation sprouted from a small, hidden-away, and previously unknown corner of the world. A family of priests from the village of Modi'in sunk in its roots and set about unveiling the previously-hidden branches of Jewish courage and kingship. Mattityahu's eldest son, Judah, embodied the attribute of kingship; he led the nation of Israel in a war of rebirth and dignity against the embittered adversary. It was his courage, coupled with God's providence, that allowed Judah to rebuff the thrust of the enemy and granted him the privilege of restoring and inaugurating the holy city of Jerusalem and its Sanctuary. His brothers, champions of the glory, carried on Judah's valiant war until they cleansed the land completely of the enemy which had seized her and tainted her spirit.
Hasmonean Kingship: A Tragic Mistake
When, at last, the Land was granted rebirth through her sons and builders, the Torah once again lit up the House of Israel. The time had come for the priests to return to the God's Sanctuary, to draw upon it as a source for fear of Heaven, and to take up their prior task - replenishing the soul of the Jewish people with sanctity.
The brave Hasmonean priests, though, were headstrong regarding their new path, the path of kingship and valor. They returned not to their previous holy task, the purpose for which they had been chosen by "He who chose Israel as His people."
This mistake spelled tragedy for both the priests themselves and the entire House of Israel. The righteous and holy Hasmonean family, which had so willingly given its life for the sake of God, His people, and His Torah, was completely killed off. Only in our memories do they remain praiseworthy and glorious. The House of Israel, which for hundreds of years after lacked the spirit and sanctity necessary to unify the branches of the nation from within, eventually stooped to the so-low level of hatred between brothers. As a result, the house toppled and crashed to the ground.
The Book of Proverbs teaches us that a righteous person, even after stumbling seven times, picks himself up again. The power of the Temple's inauguration, in light of the tragic error and downfall which followed, teaches us all an important lesson for our own times. We cannot be satisfied with strengthening only one portion of the people, no matter how important their task be. We must designate bodies for each of our national goals, whether the strengthening of the Torah or the building of the nation. Particularly needed are those holy individuals who uplift the nation and instill it with the power of faith and fear, both among to those who study and decide the law, and those who work and build up the land.
How fortunate we are to be living in the period of the Restoration, and how great will our joy be if we merit participating with all of our heart, strength, soul, and spirit in the building of both the spiritual of physical aspects the House of Israel.