Psalm 74 describes the difficult reality that followed the destruction of the Temple.
“Mount Zion, where Thou dwelt… They have set Thy sanctuary on fire; they have profaned the dwelling-place of Thy name even to the ground… they have burned up all the meeting-places of G-d in the land.” (2, 7-8). Verse 9 describes a blindness, past and present. “We saw not our signs; we have no more prophets; neither is there any among us who knows how long.”
Deuteronomy 34 states: “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
Moses was a prophet and a leader, a leader in deeds and in ethical behavior. Those after him were prophets of anger and rebuke. Their strength was primarily in their words, not in the power of their leadership. Despite all the warnings that they transmitted, they were not able to prevent the destruction. How does one navigate without a compass?
Our sages state that Derech eretz (respect) precedes the Torah. Derech eretz, expressed as love for mankind and mutual responsibility.
Several months after the birth of our son, Eran, my wife, Didi, and I were informed that Eran had a combination of autism and intellectual disabilities. That he would, most likely, never speak and would remain at the developmental age of several months for his entire life. And yet, Eran became my greatest teacher, providing me with unshakeable internal strength, without speaking a word during the 23 years of his life. He was a manifestation of “neither is there any among us who knows how long.” A pure child who never harmed anyone, and was sentenced to live within a broken body, entirely dependent on the benevolence of others. His existence was a great test of our humanity and kindness. His life was made possible exclusively through love of mankind and mutual responsibility. Eran’s existence was the embodiment of our longing for Tikkun Olam, a fixed world.
The destruction of Jerusalem marked the beginning of the Nation of Israel’s powerful longing for its eternal city. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember Thee.” (Psalm 137:5-6)
This certainly does not refer to a longing for the intolerance and causeless hatred that preceded the destruction of the Temple. It is a longing for Derech eretz, a longing for a world in which each person is loved just as he or she is. A world of “Where there is no prophet, firstly be a moral person.” A human being. Because Derech eretz precedes the Torah.
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog,
Chairman, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran
2016 Israel Prize Laureate