The Midrash (Aicha Rabba 4,15) relates when Nebuchadnezzar’s general Nebuzaradan was besieging Yerushalayim he was initially so discouraged at his lack of progress that he sought to withdraw. Nevurazden was then told that as a sign of Divine displeasure with the Jews, Hashem would cause the city’s walls to sink slightly into the ground each day. Nebuzaradan measured the walls and discovered that their height decreased each day by two tefachim, cubits. Encouraged by this sign, he maintained his position and ultimately conquered the city.
Why was Yerushalayim captured and fell into the hands of the enemy in such a fashion by its walls sinking two tefachim daily? Hashem could have simply made the walls collapse in one shot as it happened in Yeircho. What lesson of life should we glean from this?
In Shir Hashirim 8,11 Am Yisrael prides itself with the description אני חומה I am a wall. Rashi explains that the wall depicts that my love for my beloved is solid and strong. This concept, of possessing a love that is immovable similar to a wall, already existed from the time of Avraham Avinu and his relationship with Hashem. Hashem stated at the time when Nimrod was about to throw Avraham into the fiery furnace for breaking his father’s idols, “If his emunah in Me will be very strong and unwavering as a wall, then I will save him from death and if not he will perish in the fire. Avraham was willing to be sacrificed for his belief in Hashem and he was miraculously saved from death.
When Am Yisrael crossed the Yam Suf they were surrounded by towering walls of water on both sides as the passuk says נד נוזלים and והמים להם חומה מימינם ומשמאלם. Chazal write that these walls became erected from the mitzvos that Yisrael were going to fulfill. As the Yalkut writes
והמים להם חומה בשעה שירדו ישראל לים ירד גבריאל עמהם והקיפם ושמרם כחומה והיה מכריז (בין מים למים) [במים, לימין] הזהרו בישראל שעתידין לקבל התורה מימינו של הקב”ה. ולשמאל היה אומר הזהרו באלו שהן עתידין להניח תפילין בשמאל. ולמים שלפניהם היה אומר הזהרו באלו שעתידין שיהו חותמין לפניהן בברית. ושלאחריהם היה אומר הזהרו באלו שעתידין להראות קשר של תפילין וכנף ציציותיהן מאחריהן.
Malach Gavriel descended to join Am Yisrael as they crossed the sea and he surrounded them with his protection and proclaimed to the waters on their right be careful of this nation who will soon receive the Torah which was given by the right hand of Hashem. The merit of the mezuzah which is fixed on the right side of the door will save them. To the left waters, he announced to be careful with Yisrael who will lay tefillin on their left hand and will also have the merit of tefillah.
Am Yisrael’s walls of protection are their mitzvos that they fulfill. This was the response of Avraham Avinu אני חומה ושדי כמגדלות I am a wall and my breasts are compared to towers upon which Rashi comments ושדי כמגדלות – אלו בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות המניקים את ישראל בדברי תורה. These are the shuls for davening and the Beis Medrashas for learning that nurture Yisrael with its protection.
The Shem Mishmuel writes (צו ליל שביעי) that the mitzvah of mezuzah protects our dwellings from the bad influences of the culture that could enter. As the word מזזות contains two words זז מות death has moved out. The influence of the רשות הרבים is toxic and deadly to our spiritual well being and the mezuzahs serve as a wall to block their entrance from poisoning our neshamas. This is the avodah of סור מרע turn away from evil. The tefillin are the mitzvah that fortifies the עשה טוב to tie ourselves to the will of Hashem fulfilling the purpose and meaning of our existence as ambassadors of Hashem’s kingdom. We see from these two mitzvos that our protection can only come about from both strengths and one alone is not sufficient and will not do the job.
The word נד which means wall is gematriah 54. The seforim tell us that Haman is mentioned in the Megillas Esther 54 times. The number of letters that make up the ten names of Haman’s children are also 54. We suggest that this connection is to convey that Amalek’s purpose is to remove theאני חומה of Am Yisrael and break down their walls of protection, the shuls, and Batei Midrashim, the mitzvos of tefillin and mezuzah and allow the רשות הרבים to seep into their houses. This might be one of the reasons why our Chachamim added another day for Purim the 15th of Adar specifically for walled cities because Amalek’s goal was to break down our walls. They attempted to do this by luring the inhabitants of the city of Shushan to join the party of Achashveirosh and sink down to the level of deep impurity. We see from the enemy’s intentions how low of a level Yisrael who attended the gala affair would have sunk into by Achashveirosh’s command of queen Vashti to parade naked in front of the drunken masses. The victory of Purim was not only that Amalek was defeated but we once again were dedicated to rebuilding our walls of spirituality and with love and a renewed commitment to Torah and mitzvos.
The word נד with which Hashem cursed Kayin after he murdered Hevel is translated by the Targum as גלי and גלות. Rabbeinu Bachya Bereishis 4,14 writes
כי הטלטול והגלות ליחיד או לעם יורה על הסתר פנים כמי שהוא בלתי מושגח מבעליו
That wandering in galus without a fixed dwelling denotes Hester Panim Hashem’s hiding Himself from you and not demonstrating his hashgacha and concern over your welfare. When we are in galus we are prone to lose the wall of protection of our Torah and mitzvos. Our נד causes our loss of נד
Klal Yisrael at the time of the first Beis Mikdash was slowly allowing their wall of kedusha to fall apart. Its deterioration doesn’t happen all in one time overnight. Rather, slowly but surely, brick by brick, layer by layer, the wall began to be dismantled and to disappear. Each brick alone might have seemed insignificant against the whole picture but over time the damage became more noticeable to an outsider. It is like the person on a diet who craves to eat his favorite cake and goes ahead and cuts only a thin sliver from it and eats it. The small sliver doesn’t make him feel guilty. Each time he deceives himself into thinking it’s only a sliver which is undetectable. But after twenty slivers one can easily notice that half of the cake is missing and it becomes obvious to all that cheating if consistent even in small amounts will be eventually discovered. So too, the yetzer harah chisels away at one’s wall by introducing this cultural idea, and the next, all along deceiving us into believing that this is no worrying since this small piece will not break the bank. Overtime when one looks back on why he feels alienated from the life and values that he was brought up with he will recognize that although very subtle, one sliver at a time will down the road actually leave one bankrupt.
There was once an experiment where they boiled up water and put a frog inside and the reaction was that it jumped out immediately. Days later they took the same frog and placed it in cold water on the stove. They turned on the fire and waited to see what happened. Since the water only got hot slowly “sliver by sliver”, the slow increments of heat was not a shocker for it to jump out and it remained inside the now boiled water until it succumbed.
This is why Hashem destroyed the Mikdash by allowing the walls of the city to slowly sink and disappear into the ground leaving the city defenseless. This was the exact process that caused the sinking of the spiritual walls to Am Yisrael אני חומה ושדי כמגדלות. The punishment, therefore, came in the form of midah keneged midah in order to teach Yisrael how they reached such a low point in ruchniyus that there was no choice but to close up shop and try a second attempt after 70 years.
Now we can explain what message was Hashem sending by diminishing the wall daily by exactly two טפחים specifically. The sefarim tell us that the meaning why the Torah wrote an enlarged letter dalet by the word אחד of Shmah and an enlarged letter raish by the word אחר in the prohibition of idolatry לא תשתחוה לאל אחר, was to ensure that we should not get mixed up with the two letters since they look almost the same, and thereby read the passukim with a horrific distortion. Hashem is אחר another, and don’t prostrate before Hashem אחד.
The difference between these two letters is the קוץ the thorn protruding at the upper right roof of the dalet, in contrast to the letter raish which is a smooth curve. This teaches that the difference between Hashem Echad and Ail Acheir is in the small deviations. Avoiding the thorn are the people who say that today we don’t have to be too strict, those are old prehistoric customs, this part of Torah is outdated. They are smoothing out the dalet of echad which symbolizes rigid rules, boundaries and regulations more exacting than a science, and slowly but surely that קוץ will become chiseled away. Instead of having in our possession a Torah of Hashem Echad will be transformed into a modernized אל אחר with a Reform conversion, a liberal agenda, with a sprinkle of diluted Torah just here and there. This slow removal of the קוץ of the letter dalet is hinted in the measurement of two times the word טפח which is gematriah 98 including the word. 2×98=196=קוץ. The spiritual walls in the minds and hearts of Am Yisrael were slowly being dismantled and this process of the inner churban, therefore, caused the physical walls to also disappear tefach by tefach.
This parsha brings the second section of the Shma והיה אם שמוע where it says השמרו לכם פן יפתה לבבכם וסרתם. The Rabbeinu Bachya learns that are hearts will be seduced to turn our backs to Hashem because of the “good life” of our material success and serenity. One can also interpret the wordיפתה as originating in the name of יפת the son of Noach. The heart becomes captivated to the glitter of beauty and glamour that the culture packages with enticing captions and bait. The heart becomes so hooked and brainwashed by the commercials that the heart takes over the מלכות, the controls, that were formerly held by the head and intellect. The word המוח the brain and intellect, spells חומה the wall. It is the heart’s cravings that tear down the walls of righteousness values and heritage. The word יפתה is gematriah מלכות. יפתה לבבכם the heart takes over the reins of the person and rules him. עבירה גוררת עבירה until it reaches the nadir of וסרתם ועבדתם אלהים אחרים you turn even farther from Hashem and worship strange deities. Your wall has crumbled and leveled to the ground upon where it once stood high and erect protecting you from infiltration of your enemies.
In the Nacheim addition of the Tisha B’av Mincha we say ואני אהיה לה נאום ה’ חומת אש סביב ולכבוד אהיה בתוכה Hashem promises that even though He destroyed the Bais Hamikdash with fire, nevertheless with fire You will rebuild her. As the passuk says I will be for her a wall of fire around her and I will dwell inside with My Kovod and glory. May this future revelation of kovod Hashem immediately replace the Kovid Virus that is in our midst במהרה בימינו. Let us together rebuild our inner walls.