Midianites, Senseless Hate & the Destruction of the Temple

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


On this Shabbos two events transpire that though at first glance seem unrelated are in truth intrinsically linked. It commemorates the commencement of the month of Av where we mourn the destruction of our holy temples and the Torah portion of Matot-Masei.

Parshat Matot discusses the war that Israel fights against the Midianites. The verse (Bamidbar 31:2) states “Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered to your people.” Concerning the reason that Israel fought a war with Midian while ignoring the Moabites, rashi elucidates a fundamental between their particularized drive:

“But not against the Moabites, for the Moabites were involved in the matter out of fear, since they were afraid of being plundered by them, because all it says is, “do not provoke them into battle” (Deut. 2:9), but the Midianites were angered over a dispute which did not concern them.” The drive against Israel on the part of Midianites was a senseless hatred that completely consumed them.

The Talmud (Yoma 9b) states concerning the destruction of the second Temple: “Why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.”

The story of the Midianites serves to inform us of the dreadful crisis of “senseless hate.” The Zohar (2:68a) expresses that the essence of the name of Midyan is etymologically derived from the word madon which means to quarrel. There very identity was to fight—not for purpose—but because that was who their identity. Their wars were not to protect their way of life, fighting was there way of life.

In the verse that G-d tells Moshe to enlist Israel to war the verse (Bamidbar 31:2) expressing G-d’s directive to Moshe states “Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites,” however, when Moshe instructs Israel, he states (31:3) “carry out the revenge of the Lord (YHVH) against Midian.”

While this seems to be a discrepancy in essence they are expressive of the same fundamental point. Understanding this principle conveys not merely an interpretation of the quarrel with the Midianites, but intimates the manner in which we can reverse the exile and herald in the era of redemption.

In the statement that the quarrel of Midian is against Lord, it is expressive that on a spiritual level what Midian desired was to separate the four letters that make up G-d’s name. Instead of reading them as a single word, one should instead only see their particular letter. While each name is holy in their own right, the sum of the parts of the letters together expresses a depth that the letters on their own do not express.

The verse (Mishlei 20:27) says of the soul of a Jew “Man’s soul is the Lord’s (YHVH) lamp.” What this means is that the Jewish People as a singular entity express G-d in the world. However, if they are apart, broken into pieces by senseless discord, while they retain their sense of identity as a letter of G-d’s name, they do not come together to express G-d.

It is for this reason that through senseless love the redemption will come. It is not merely a reward separate from the act of loving, but the togetherness creates a cohesiveness in the Jewish people. When they come together they reveal the name of the essential name of G-d in this world. In truth this is the ultimate expression of the redemption as the verse (Zecharia 14:9) “on that day shall the Lord be one, and His name one.” For in that time we will truly see how all there is the name and expression of G-d and he is one not in a composite unity, but that there is literally nothing else that exists but Him!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *