Rome – The Divider

Nov 24, 2014

by Rabbi Menachem Farber

Teves, the month the destruction of the Temple commenced, is a time to contemplate what those who destroyed the Temple were attempting to do. The end of Parshat Vayishlach describes to us in a very cryptic form the history of Esav/Edom. The last pasuk speaks about Esav at the pinnacle of his power. It says : (Breishit 36, 40-43) “Now these are the names of the chiefs of Esav,.the chief of Magdiel and the chief of Iram; these are the chiefs of Edom by their settlements,.he is Esav, father of Edom”.

The tenth and last chief (or his place) is called Magdiel and Rashi tells us that it is Rome. The Roman Empire was the height of Esav’s power. The Gur Aryeh explains that Rome was given the name Magdiel because of the great heights Esav was raised to during the reign of Rome. He adds that the name Rome in Hebrew itself means the heights from the word “hitromemut”. Those heights gave Esav the power to oppose us during this exile of Rome in an especially cruel and vicious way. The Gur Aryeh tells us, in the name of the Midrash, that Aluf Iram, the one that follows Magdiel, is also Rome. One could wonder why the Torah gave Rome two names. Magdiel and Iram. The Maharal does not leave us in the dark, and explains the two names. Magdiel, he says, means a tower, (from the word “migdal”) indicating their rise to the heights, toward the heavens, and Iram means a city (from the word “iyr”), their roots on earth. They stretched from the earth to the heavens.

But their building a city and tower was not original. They were preceded by the “Generation of Separation”; they also built a city and tower. It was that generation’s extension from the earth to the heavens. However, their city and tower, were not for the purpose of connecting the two. On the contrary they were going to the heavens to do battle with the Creator, to separate the two, to exclude Hashem from any inteference in the affairs of our earthly world. As Rashi says at the end of Parshat Noach: (Rashi 11 1) “They came together in common counsel and said, ‘Let us rise to the heavens and do battle with the creator’”. They failed! Several attempts were subsequently made to complete what the Generation of Separation started, but none of them as dangerous as Rome’s – not even the one we are in the midst of celebrating today – Chanukah. Greece’s influence reached only into the Heichal. They had no access to the Holy of Holies, whereas Titus entered into the Inner Sanctum and desecrated it in the most abominable way.

Yes, Rome was looking to complete what the Generation of Separation started, to separate the heavens from the earth, to remove the restrictions the heavens places on the earth. That was their goal in rising toward the heavens, to disconnect from all spirituality and create here on earth a civilization that would descend to the depths of immorality and decadence. Rome in their arrogance sought independence from the Creator, as did the “Generation of Separation”, the Tower to disconnect, the City a degenerate society.

However, just as the highest level of opposition to Hashem’s purpose is expressed through a city and tower so is the highest level of implementing His purpose expressed through a city and tower, Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash.

Man was, truly, given the ability to rise to the heavens, not to disconnect, “chalilah”, but rather to bring the heavens back to earth. Earth was given to Man, it is his responsibility to convert this very limited environment into an eternal one, to make the earth heavenly, to implement the “Divine Ideal”. As Yaacov saw in his dream, the angels rising and descending, they rose to the heavens to bring the heavens down to earth. Rashi says the midpoint of the ladder corresponded to the heavenly Mikdash and to the one here on earth. That was the ladder’s purpose to bring the heavenly Mikdash down to us. The last fortress where this ideal is being realized is the Yeshivot and our homes, the Yeshivot, the tower, and our homes, the city. Each and every Jewish home, idealistically built on the foundations of Torah, is another brick in the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash and Yerushalayim.

May we merit its completion speedily in our days.

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