The Maharal explains that the destruction of the Temple cannot be blamed on sins of the people, because the destruction and the exile is a “momentous matter,” and such momentous occurrences do not depend on random events. (Netzach Yisrael, Chapter 2). Sin has a random quality as part of reality, since the very nature of mankind in general and of the people of Israel in particular is basically internal good which cannot be overcome by sin. Thus, the true reason for the exile can only be seen as part of a Divine plan of history, which first began with the “Covenant of the Pieces” that G-d made with Abraham.
However, there is a limiting level of sin which can be viewed as providing a secondary reason for the exile. On the other hand, an increase in the number of sins cannot be sufficient reason for the destruction of the Temple and the kingdom, since every individual sinner could be punished without a need for destroying the political structure. Rather, destruction will only come about when all the elements of the government become so rotten that the continuation of the governmental authority serves only to enhance the spoilage. There are four branches in the Hebrew government: the king (“melech” – the political government), the judges (“shofet” – behavior according to the Torah), the priesthood (“kohen” – religious rituals), and the prophet (“navi” – ethical behavior). The acronym of these four elements is “Mishkan” – the Tabernacle. In this week’s Haftara, Jeremiah criticizes the nation: “The priests did not say, Where is G-d, the teachers of Torah (the judges) did not know Me, the leaders (government) sinned against Me, and the prophets prophesied for Baal” [2:8]. If at least one of the branches had remained pure, there would still have been hope. But the only remaining prophet, Jeremiah, was being pursued by the king.
The wonder expressed by the prophecy cries out for an answer: “Has any nation replaced its gods, even though they are not real gods? My nation has replaced its glory without any purpose.” [2:11]. The answer to this is the comparison that the prophet made: “Pass through the islands of the Kittites, send to Kedar, and look in depth” [2:10]. The Talmud explains that the Kittites who live close to the sea worshipped fire, and Kedar, who dwelt in the desert, worshipped water. Thus, every nation views what it lacks as an ideal. The same is true for the Christian nations of Europe, who inherited from Rome the collective tendency to spill blood, and who worship the ideals of love, and for the nations of the east, which have a positive attitude towards stealing and illicit sex, who have accepted the judgement against them. And the nation of Israel, which is very prone to disagreements, shows great admiration for the concept of unity (source: Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi, based on the words of the Maharal). If the essential unity is lacking and the leaders of the nation do not teach the unique traits of G-d, the nation reverts to its divisive behavior, and this shows up as idol worship.
Exile itself leads to religious behavior that borders on paganism. “And there you will worship gods… of wood and stone” [Deuteronomy 4:28]. This shows a link to the Christians, who worship a wooden symbol, and to Islam, which worships around the Kaaba stone. And that is what Jeremiah says: “They say to wood, You are my father, and to stone, You gave birth to us” [2:27]. The continuation, “for they have turned their backs to me and not their faces” [ibid], is geared towards the era without any prophecy, which leads to the world of philosophy, until after the Holocaust when “in the time of their stress they will say, Rise up and rescue us!” [ibid].
Source: “AS SHABBAT APPROACHES” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute) See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Mattot-Massei 5775, issue 1583.