This tremendous downfall made it very difficult for souls to imagine the awesome and broad avodas Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash and to attain the light of the Torah in its elevated state of completion. A frightening gap developed between the regular avodas Hashem of the earlier days and that of exile. Therefore, the Torah needed to descend from its elevated position, to endure a tremendous constriction into a narrow kernel – the “four amos of halacha” – which matches the life circumstances of the individual Jew during the exile, in order to give him life during the duration of exile. For if the Torah would have remained in the pinnacle of its illumination, the Jewish nation wouldn’t have been able to understand anything of it during the time of exile as a result of the tremendous incongruence between their life circumstances and its lofty portrayals, and they would have been left without spiritual food or sustenance.[1]

Thus, the secrets of Torah, the rays of prophecy, the reasons behind the mitzvos and the wisdom of their mysteries were concealed and hidden, for these are only relevant when am Yisrael are settled in their Land, attaining a perception of Shechinah Elyonah. While in exile, the Jewish nation is unable to draw close to the incredible awesomeness of this lofty kind of Torah. All that is left is the halacha, the practical side of Torah, the portion that speaks most directly to the individual’s personal life, to the shard that lies in the grave. This is in accordance with Chazal’s teaching that Talmud Bavli is similar to havla d’garmi in the sense that it comes to enliven am Yisrael in exile, when they are likened to the dead – “‘You have laid me down in the dark like the eternally dead’ – This is the Babylonian Talmud.” (Sanhedrin 24a)

This is the meaning of Chazal’s statement, “From the day the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, all Hashem has in His world are the four amos of halacha alone.” (Berachos 8a) It is the life-force that is fitting for the individual, a limb in the grave. However, like havla d’garmi, there is an awesomely tremendous power packed into these four amos of halacha to return am Yisrael to a state of redemption and to help them rise to eternal resurrection. This is the meaning of Chazal’s teaching that during the period of exile, the mitzvos are like headstones – “Hatzivi lach tziyyunim” (Yermiyahu 31:21, see Rashi to Devarim 11:18 and Ramban 18:25), which, on the one hand, implies that they are like headstones, but on the other hand implies that they are like signposts for the entire journey of exile, reminding us and refreshing our memories of the days of old.

Thus, even if, externally, it appears as if the Torah has endured an enormous descent an become exceedingly constricted, on a deeper level it contains an awesome hidden power, mysterious and concealed, which guards am Yisrael all the years of the exile. Indeed, it is as a result of their commitment to and self-sacrifice for the Torah that they will again rise to eternal life. However, the manifestation of the Torah in exile is without illumination, without the revelation of the Shechinah. Rather, it nourishes souls on a hidden level, cleansing them of the filth of their sins and preparing them until they are ready to return to their days of old, renewed.

Therefore, in the darkness of exile, we have not yet seen the glowing fruit that shines from within our holy service, and the sweet rays of the mitzvos have not yet ben revealed in all their illumination. The light is concealed, and the vitality has departed. This, until the sages of the Jewish nation – under the influence of the divine spirit – found it necessary to reveal some jewels, to draw upon the treasure houses of sod; futuristic spiritual levels, the light of Olam Haba, the seventh and eight millennia, in order to strengthen the Jewish nation in their commitment to fulfilling the mitzvos by introducing the ultimate revelation that is destined to come upon the nation in the world that is completely good.

During the time that our nation was filled with life in the house of Hashem, we did not need to speak about Olam Haba, we did not need to search after the purpose of the mitzvos. Everything was shining, alive, and the wealth of the Torah’s sweetness and beauty shone and sparkled from every side.  However, when the world grew dark around us and we began to dwell in the earth, the sages found it necessary to talk about a distant future in order to strengthen our hearts to be able to handle the bitter present. They became like one who describes the circumstances of a future existence in order to strengthen bodies broken under the cruel yoke of wicked nations.[2]

So, the Torah became constricted in exile, covered in a great measure of smallness in order to spiritually sustain the broken shards and guide them in an individual manner, a Torah for each and every independent cell, all the while that they would be disparate and separated from one another.

This kind of Torah is referred to as “darkness” in relation to the light of Toras Eretz Yisroel. “‘You have laid me down in the dark like the eternally dead’ – This is the Babylonian Talmud.” This darkness is the point of constriction which allows for an application within the framework of each individual alone, as a complete entity, and which covers over all areas of the Torah’s interiority which reveals the depths of Torah and its broader application beyond the rectification of each individual spark alone. For this is the nature of darkness – it makes it impossible to see the entire picture, leaving one to feel around blindly and to feel each individual item alone without seeing its relationship to the broader expanse of reality.

This was the necessity brought about by exile, to bring the Torah into our mochin d’katnus, into the experience of an individual alone, in order to enliven the bones in the grave in the aspect of havla d’garmi. This is the secret of what is written in Eicha, “He cast from heaven to earth, the glory of the Jewish nation.” This implies that even the Torah, the aspect of “Tiferes Yisrael”, was cast from above to the depths of the earth, descending into intense constriction into the mouths of a nation sitting in the awesome darkness of the curse of exile.

This descent of the Torah, “Tiferes Yisrael”, is perhaps the most painful aspect of the destruction of the Beis HaMikash. The Torah donned sackcloth, and about it the verse in Eicha mourned, “The crown upon our head has fallen” – a reference to the greatness of the Torah which descended along with am Yisrael. “Since am Yisrael were exiled – there is no greater nullification of Torah than this.” (Chagiga 5:2)


[1] See Oros, p. 66.

[2] See Oros p. 110 and on.

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Rav Reuven Sasson
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