A psalm of Asaph
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. Psalm 79:1
Today, Jews around the world mourn the loss of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is Tisha B'Av, the ninth of the Hebrew month Av, the darkest day of the year in Judaism. Psalm 79 speaks to this tragedy, beginning with the words, "A psalm of Asaph. O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance . . ."
In Hebrew, the opening verse is literally translated "A song of Asaph . . ." The Jewish sages question why this psalm is called a "song." They say that it seems it should have been prefaced as "A lamentation of Asaph . . ." given the somber tone of the psalm.
The rabbis then give us the following analogy to explain the destruction of the Temples, which will help us understand why this psalm is indeed a song and not merely a lamentation.
Imagine an artist is standing on a high cliff painting a huge magnificent masterpiece of the canyon below him. He has been painting for days - really putting his heart and soul into the painting - when a friend comes by to see how he is doing. The friend comes close to the painting and says how beautiful it is. But the artist suggests that the friend take a few steps back so that he can really appreciate the painting. The painting is so large that it cannot be fully grasped up close.
The friend steps backward, and then takes a few more steps, and then a few more. The artist starts to call out that there is a cliff behind his friend, but the friend doesn't hear and thinks the artist is telling him to go back even further. As he nears the edge of the cliff, the artist waves frantically, trying to get his friend to stop walking. Finally, with no choice, he takes his masterpiece and smashes it. That finally gets the friend's attention and brings him back from the brink of death.
Similarly, when God destroyed the Temple, His masterpiece, it was a sacrifice He made in order to save His people. Really, the Israelites deserved to be destroyed, but God took out His anger on the wood and stones of the Temple, sparing the people, and finally getting their attention. It was an act of great mercy and love, which ultimately resulted in the people repenting.
The lesson for us is never to get too upset when physical things in our lives get broken and destroyed. We need to remember that often what looks like a disaster has spared us from something worse. Instead of harming us, God may choose to hurt our possessions instead. Next time a vase falls or the car breaks down, thank God that it's only something material that He has taken. Pay attention to Him and praise Him!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President