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YOU'RE TALKING TO ME?

by Rabbi Binyomin Friedman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Any generation whose deeds have not brought about the rebuilding of the Temple, it is as if they have destroyed it themselves" (Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Yoma 1:1).

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Any generation whose deeds have not brought about the rebuilding of the Temple, it is as if they have destroyed it themselves" (Jerusalem Talmud Tractate Yoma 1:1).

One must wonder how Hashem could realistically expect our generation to rebuild the Temple. Our 50+% intermarriage rate has most of establishment Jewry preoccupied with maintaining our very continuity, let alone bringing the world to its perfected state. Furthermore, how can Hashem expect us to rebuild the Temple when the generations of the Vilna Gaon, Maimonides, and the sages of the Talmud could not do so? If the generation that experienced the splendor of the Temple allowed this treasure to be destroyed, what chance do we have for rebuilding it? Our generation reads about offerings in the Wall Street Journal, not those in Leviticus.

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, the late mashgiach (spiritual advisor) of the famed Ponovezh Yeshiva in B'nei Brak, Israel, believes that the answer to this question lies in the following disturbing verse: "[Hashem] recalls the sins of the fathers upon children and grandchildren, to the third and fourth generation" (Exodus 34:7). This begs the classic question: How can Hashem punish children for the sins of their fathers? The Talmud answers that Hashem only punishes those children that perpetuate the sins of their fathers; when the sons are punished for their own sins, the severity of their punishment is increased. Still, one might ask, we find several verses throughout Tanach (the Bible) stating that no man shall suffer for the sins of his father. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?

Rabbi Friedlander, quoting his mentor, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, one of the greatest Torah thinkers of the 20th century, explains that the son who follows in the footsteps of a father who rebels is himself perpetuating the original act of rebellion. As such, the son links himself to the original act and assumes some responsibility for it. Thankfully, this process does not go on forever. By the third generation the influence of the original act of rebellion has waned considerably. By the fourth generation it is all but gone. The fifth generation has no relationship to the rebellion at all. The anti-Torah life of the fifth generation is not a matter of rejection; it is the only lifestyle they have ever known.

When a sin is an act of rebellion, premeditated and performed out of conviction, it is a serious matter. To repent from such a sin requires a complete change of attitude. The ba'al teshuvah (repentant person) must experience sincere regret and must confront the root causes of his affront to Hashem. On the other hand, when the sin is reduced to a matter of lifestyle, its negative impact is much smaller. No premeditated or conscious statement is being made. The teshuvah (repentance) therefore is also easier. The challenges faced by this type of ba'al teshuvah are primarily those of changing his lifestyle and do not involve intense soul searching and regret.

Our sages teach (Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 98a), "Mashiach (Messiah) will only come to a generation that is either totally guilty or totally meritorious. If they are meritorious, Mashiach will come with the clouds. If they are guilty, he will be riding on a donkey." The clouds are a symbol of heavenly purity. This is the way Mashiach arrives to a meritorious generation, cloaked in the purity of their deeds. The opposite of the clouds is the donkey, a symbol of brute strength and energy without any intelligence. According to the Maharal of Prague, a leading Jewish thinker of the 16th century, the donkey symbolizes the materialism of this world. Even the donkey's Hebrew name "chamor" comes from the root word "chomer - materialism". The Talmud is teaching us that there will come a generation that is totally guilty, not being at all observant. Yet this same generation is not philosophically at odds with Hashem. It is merely preoccupied with its materialism. It is on the back of this very materialism that Mashiach will arrive, as the generation turns its material pursuits into spiritual ones.

Our generation is overwhelmingly non-observant, yet it has not rejected the Torah. Who other than a few college professors is familiar with the arguments of the 19th century Bible critics? Who can say that they have actually studied the Talmud and found it wanting? Gone are Yeshiva dropouts of the last one hundred years who gave socialism, communism, atheism, and a host of other movements their activists. Yet as these movements and philosophies died down and the Jewish people settled into their materialistic complacency, there arose a new groups of activists - people drawing closer to Hashem rather than further away. Scores of Jews with no animosity toward Hashem started to find meaning in their Torah. It is this movement which is the dynamic force in Judaism today. It is this group that bears no burden of repenting for the sins of fathers they have never known. It is this group that is expected to do something that dozens of generations have not accomplished - rebuild the Temple.

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Rabbi Binyomin Friedman, spiritual leader of Congregation Ariel in Dunwoody, is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

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