The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah convened towards the end of the
Babylonian exile. In their wisdom and with their spirit of
holiness, they understood that Yerushalayim had only been
destroyed because "people strictly followed the letter of the
law" (Bava Metzia 32). In other words, the people had
failed to observe the protective measures and the
stringencies and customs that the Sages of each generation
had instituted. The Anshei Knesses Hagedolah therefore
instructed their disciples to "Make a fence for the Torah"
The mussar scholars explained this with a parable.
During wartime civilians are fenced in with barbed wire. This
is not for their protection; simple cutters can easily cut
the wire apart. As long as the fence remains intact however,
they feel safe from danger. If they find that it has been
breached, they understand that they are all at risk.
It is the same with Torah and mitzvos. So long as the Torah's
protective decrees are being fully honored and observed, we
are assured that our observance of Torah and mitzvos is full
The mussar scholars tell the story of the man who came
to his teacher asking him to tell him how to get the better
of the yetzer hora, which he found to be stronger than
him, and which was overcoming him every day. His rebbe
suggested that he approach a certain wise person, with a lot
of common sense, with his question. That man would give him
He arrived at the man's house in the early evening and found
the door closed. He rang the bell but nobody answered. He
rang again and, when nobody came, he looked through the
window. He saw the man sitting at his table with his family.
He knocked loudly but still nobody came.
He went back to his rebbe and responded to his, "What
did he tell you?" with an account of his visit and the closed
"That's amazing" said his rebbe. "He is such an
upright fellow and so courteous. How is it that he wouldn't
ask someone into his house?"
He suggested that his talmid pay the man a visit the
next morning and ask him to explain himself.
The next morning found him outside the man's house again. The
door was again closed but this time, the master of the house
himself answered as soon as he rang the bell. He welcomed his
visitor, invited him in and even brought him a chair.
"What can I do for you?" the man asked his guest.
"I have something to ask you."
"Please, go ahead."
The visitor began telling him how he'd come the previous
evening and rung the bell several times but nobody had
When he heard this the man said, "Was it you who knocked all
those times last night? Weren't you ashamed to ring once,
twice and then a third time at someone else's door? If you
see that your ringing is not being answered you ought to stop
it, turn around and go home. Who owns this place, you or me?
If I have to open the door to you every time you come here,
you'll be master and I'll be your servant."
The visitor went back to his rebbe and told him the
story. This time his rebbe gave him an explanation.
"My son," he said, "that is the answer to your
question about how to vanquish the yetzer hora. The
yetzer hora does not have power to get inside a
person. He stands at the door ringing, as the posuk
says, "Sin crouches at the entrance" (Bereishis 4:7).
All that a person who fears Heaven does is to refrain from
opening the door and then he does not need to fight the
yetzer hora at all. A foolish person opens the door
and the yetzer hora bursts inside and takes over, as
Chazal say, `To begin with he is a visitor, then he becomes
master of the house.' The door represents the fence around
the Torah. As long as the fence is intact, he can't get
inside and draw a person into a struggle with him."
This is what Chazal meant when they said, "Yerushalayim was
only destroyed because people strictly followed the letter of
the law." They removed the protective fences and the
yetzer hora was able to get the better of them and
almost had a complete victory, chas vesholom.
From those days until our own, all our great Torah leaders
throughout the world, have followed in the footsteps of the
earlier sages and taken care to uphold their directive. These
protective measures have been widely accepted, particularly
in Yerushalayim, the holy city of the Mikdosh. Those
who laid the foundations of the yishuv in Yerushalayim
were outstanding geonim and tzaddikim: Rav Meir
Auerbach of Kalish, Rav Moshe Leib of Kutna, Rav Yehoshua
Leib Diskin, Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Shneur Zalman of
Lublin zecher tzaddikim liverochoh. When they came to
reestablish the Jewish community in Yerushalayim and in Eretz
Yisroel, their first concern was to enact protective measures
and repair any breaches in the wall of Torah observance.
As long as these fences remained in place in Yerushalayim,
the Torah was kept in every detail. From the day that the
fences were breached and the protective measures compromised
-- particularly in the areas of chinuch, Shabbos and
modesty -- the general level of religion has deteriorated
sharply, R'l. Jewish children are given instruction in
denial and heresy. Shabbos kodesh is publicly and
openly profaned and Jewish daughters are divested of their
Experience bears this out. The generation that I found in
Yerushalayim lived exclusively in the Old City; building
outside the walls started in my time. A solid majority of the
yishuv lived in a street named Rechov Chevron (so as
to be continually mentioning the merit of the Ovos who
are buried in Chevron), in an area bounded by Rechov
Hayehudim going downwards, next to the [site of the] gateway
of the Beis Hamikdosh (all the devout Jews who passed along
that street would bow towards the [site of the] Mikdosh
gates), by Rechov Mazbana to Shaar Shechem and by Rechov Baba
Hatte until Shaar Ho'aroyos.
Within this area there were twenty-two bottei
knessiyos, belonging to both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
There were two yeshivos gedolos: Toras Chaim and
Chayei Olom, apart from the Sephardi yeshivos, and there were
fifteen mikvo'os. In the batei knessiyos of
Shomrei Hachomos, which were next to the site of the Mikdosh
gates that were called Shaar Hachanuyos, there were shifts.
The first shift lasted from nightfall until midnight and the
second one from midnight until it grew light.
The Jews lived together with their Arab neighbors, yet no Jew
was afraid to walk out alone. The Arabs bore the Jews no
hatred. In fact, the relations between them were positively
cordial. I grew up with Arab neighbors -- the Arab who owned
our yard. The first shift would go home at midnight and the
second shift would arrive from >Rechov Baba Hatte quite
fearlessly. Some of them went at midnight to the Kosel
Hama'arovi to say Tikkun Chatzos in tears and with great
intensity, without any fear of our neighbors, whatsoever.
It is obvious that this was in fulfillment of the
posuk, "And all the peoples of the land will see that
Hashem's Name is attached to you and they will be afraid of
you" (Devorim 28:10). Hashem's Name was clearly
associated with all of them: men, women, boys and girls. The
men were adorned with beards and long payos, the boys
also had payos and the women dressed modestly.
It was a joy to behold. It was a joy to see the children
going home from the chadorim by day and by night, with
their Gemoras under their arms. It was a joy to hear
the sound of the zemiros on Friday nights -- the
streets were very narrow and the houses had two or three
floors, the windows on either side faced each other. When
everyone started singing zemiros, the sound of their
voices filled all the streets. Everyone felt the place's
holiness and quite literally, the Presence of the
Shechinoh. It was a fulfillment of the posuk,
"For Hashem . . . goes about in your camp . . . and your camp
shall be holy" (Devorim 23:15).
But in our many sins, we have lost all this. Lewdness has
replaced modesty. People grow long forelocks instead of
payos and beards. There are mixed evening classes for
young men and women, instead of shifts by the site of the
Mikdosh. There are male and female teachers, instead
of rebbis and there are alien books of study instead
of Tze'enoh Ure'einoh. Ever since this has happened,
we see the fulfillment of the posuk, "And He shall not
see anything immodest in you and go away from you"
Hakodosh Boruch Hu put suppressed hatred of the Jews
into the Arabs and they murdered however many they murdered
and the rest fled from the city. Even those who owned houses
and courtyards in the Old City, which they had bought with
their own money, left their property and fled the city. Once
again, the posuk, "Our inheritance has gone over to
aliens; our houses to strangers" (Eichoh 5:2) was
The bottei knessiyos and bottei medrashos,
where the sound of Torah study virtually never ceased by day
or night, were either destroyed or burned, among them
Yeshivas Toras Chaim. The Arabs sit in the remaining
bottei knessiyos and do what they like there, in
renewed fulfillment of the posuk, "Gentiles have
entered Your inheritance; they have defiled Your holy Temple"
Woe to us on account of our sins that have caused this. After
eighteen hundred years, our ancestors were living in the Old
City in holiness and purity and the place has been destroyed
because of our guilt and our glory has been exiled. Now there
is nobody in the entire place who mentions Hashem's Name.
Thank G-d that we are able to visit the Kosel
Hama'arovi -- and even that we are afraid to do.
Our experiences are the fulfillment of Chazal's statement
that "Yerushalayim was only destroyed because people strictly
followed the letter of the law," in the plainest sense.