Friday, July 20, 2018




The southern gateway of the old city of Yerushalayim is known as the ‘Sha’ar Ha’ashpos- Dung Gate.” In the times of the prophet Nechemiah the southern gateway was one and a half miles south of the present gateway. Because of the tremendous sanctity of the city, refuse could not be dumped within the confines of the city. Therefore, Nechemiah enacted that all of the city’s garbage be carried out of the city through the southern gateway and dumped into the valley of Hennom where it would be burned.
      In our time, the ‘modern day’ southern gate retains its ancient title, but for a more painful reason. In 324 C.E., the Byzantines conquered Yerushalayim and reversed the edict of Nechemiah and proclaimed that refuse from all surrounding villages must be brought into Yerushalayim via the southern gate and dumped on the Temple Mount. Over time, the entire Temple Mount and all the remains of the Bais Hamikdash were covered in garbage and completely obscured from view.
      There is a legend that in the early 1500’s the Moslem ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent, saw an elderly woman carrying garbage into Yerushalayim and dumping it on top of an endless pile of waste. He summoned her and demanded that she explain her actions. She replied that it was an age-old family tradition which she had been trained to do by her mother and grandmother in her youth. She told him that she had a familial tradition that the sole remaining wall of the Jews’ Holy Temple was beneath that spot. When her ancestors - the Romans - were unable to destroy that wall, they decided to bury the wall, so no one would see any trace of what was once there.
Suleiman was intrigued; he couldn’t believe it was really true. He had precious diamonds and gems buried in the heap. When word got out that jewels were to be found in the garbage, multitudes of the impoverished citizens began clearing away the garbage in search of the diamonds. Eventually, the refuse was cleared away and the Kosel was revealed.

      At the beginning of Chumash Devorim, Moshe Rabbeinu gathered Klal Yisroel to give his lengthy final discourse to his beloved nation. In it he recounted their mishaps and struggles, so the new generation could learn from the mistakes of their fathers. Moshe recounted his feelings of helplessness when all of Klal Yisroel gathered in a fury to complain. “How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?”[1]  
      The Medrash[2] relates that there were three prophets who prophesized utilizing the word, “Eichah”: Moshe, Yeshayah, and Yermiyah. Moshe said, “Eichah esa levadi- How can I carry alone?” Yeshayah said, “Eichah haysa l’zonah kiryah ne’emanah- How has the faithful city (i.e. Yerushalyim) become like a harlot?”[3] Yermiyah said, “Eichah yashvah vadad ha’ir rabasi am haysah k’almanah- Alas! how does she sit in solitude? The city that was great with people has become like a widow.”[4]
      The Ateres Mordechai, Rabbi Mordechai Rogoz zt’l, explains that each of the proclamations of ‘Eichah’ were far worse than their predecessor. Moshe Rabbeinu lamented over the arguments and quarrels that Klal Yisroel presented to him. Yeshayah looked at the cries of Moshe with envy. “The fact that they came to Moshe with their quarrels and complaints was a level unto itself. But in our generation, they don’t even seek the counsel of Torah sages; they no longer strive to know the will of G-d.” Therefore, Yeshayah lamented that the trustworthy city, the city that was well founded in the ways of Torah and G-d, has strayed like a harlot.
      The complaint of Yermiyahu however, was the most painful of all. He assessed the situation at the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and declared that, despite the sins of the masses, in the time of Yeshayahu there was still hope. Yerushalayim was still swarming with her beloved, albeit sinful, children. There was still hope in the hearts of the righteous that the nation would repent, and the foreboded destruction could be avoided. But now that the enemy had vanquished the city, “Alas! She sits in solitude!” There can be no greater pain in the world than that of a forsaken loneliness, and the deadly silence of defeat.

      Why was the city punished with such a grim fate of being emptied completely?
      The Netziv of Volozhin comments that when Bila’am ‘blessed’ Klal Yisroel he peered at them and unwittingly declared, “Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”[5] Hashem wanted Klal Yisroel to be a nation that dwells in solitude, i.e. a nation that would live a different lifestyle than the other nations. It was to be nation that would not feel compelled to conform to the styles and lifestyles of their surroundings. A nation that would proudly unite among themselves and not feel intimidated by others.
But Klal Yisroel did not live up to that mantra. There is an old Jewish expression that says, “When a Jew tries to make Kiddush with the Goyim, the Goyim make Havdalah.” When we ignore our uniqueness and seek to be like everyone else, the nations remind us that we are indeed different. When we failed to maintain our uniqueness, we were compelled into the solitude of exile. 
The greatest pain in the world is when something we had is lost. To a mourner we relate the verse, “Hamakom yenachem eschem b’soch shi’ahr avaylay Tzion veYerushalayim- May the Omnipresent console you among the mourners of Tzion and Jeruslalem.” The title, “Hamakom” (literally meaning, ‘the Place’) is relatively infrequently used in reference to G-d. When a loved one dies, there is no way to fully console the mourners. The death of their loved one creates a gaping void. The only true means of consolation would be to bring the dead back to life. Our prayer is that G-d Himself fill the void in the hearts of the mourners by resurrecting the dead.

From when the holy metropolis of Yerushalayim was silenced, there can only be one way to console the holy city. We must once again unify and become the nation that dwells in solitude, filled with pride in who we are and what our mission is. When we have that sense of pride, the very city of Yerushalayim will emerge from its two thousand years of solitude, bereft of its ultimate landmark - the Bais Hamikdash. We will once again ascend the holy mountain in eternal joy, retaking our place pridefully as Hashem’s ambassadors on earth.

Alas! how does she sit in solitude?”
“May the Omnipresent console you… Yerushalayim”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Devorim 1:12
[2] Eichah 1:1
[3] 1:21
[4] Eichah 1:1
[5] Bamidbar 23:9


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