The Chofetz Chaim begins his classic sefer, Chofetz Chaim, by painting a picture of the world and our place in it. He begins: Hashem separated us as a nation. He gave us His precious Torah and brought us into Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Why? For what purpose were we chosen? The Chofetz Chaim answers that we were chosen to perform Hashem’s mitzvos (commandments) and thereby earn enormous goodness and reward in this world and the next.
The Chofetz Chaim notes, however, that Hashem gives us His gifts in a manner that is totally different from that of a human being. A person who presents a gift and then sees that the recipient does not appreciate its value, might feel inclined to take the item back. He might reason that if the recipient does not recognize its value, the gift should go to someone who does recognize it. Hashem, however, acts differently. When in earlier generations He saw that we did not appreciate His Torah, He sent us prophets to help us recognize the value of this most precious gift.
When the era of prophecy came to an end at the start of the Second Temple period, we still lived in our precious land and the Divine Presence still rested in the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), providing us with a golden opportunity to serve Hashem and fulfill all His commandments in the way that He desires. But we became entangled in a web of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) and loshon hora (derogatory speech). And because of disunity brought about by these sins our Beis HaMikdash was destroyed and we were exiled from our land.
The Chofetz Chaim states: “From then until now, each and every day, we pray to Hashem that He should bring us near to Him, as He promises many times throughout His Torah. Yet He has not answered our pleas.”
The Chofetz Chaim concludes that we are the ones who are to blame for this. The 2,000-year-old exile is not a continuous punishment for the sins of those who lived during the Second Temple era. Hashem stands ready to end the exile immediately — were it not for the sins of sinas chinam and loshon hora which continue to wreak destruction among our people.