When you walk into a room where people are sitting shivah, the atmosphere is heavy and sad. Not a word is exchanged. Then a menachem, a comforter, walks into the room. Initially, the people on the low chairs look up at their visitor with sad eyes. Then they slowly come alive, sharing stories of their departed loved one, exchanging reminiscences. “What do you remember?” they ask. “What can you share?” They then accept words of chizuk as expressed in the eternal phrase of nechomah: HaMakom yenacheim es’chem.
During these days of Av, we are all aveilim. We remember the time when the Bais Hamikdosh stood in the center of Yerushalayim. We reflect on how different and blessed life was at that time. We think about all the tragedies that occurred to the Jews throughout the ages and become sad, because we know that Tisha B’Av is the repository of sadness and mourning for everything that has befallen us.
The tragedy and sadness have become part of our essence. As believing Jews, we realize our history and what has happened to our people in the churban and ever since. We remember the six million, the Harugei Beitar, the millions of our brothers and sisters who were led into slavery, the millions who were killed throughout the centuries in pogroms, by the church, by the Muslims, in the Inquisition, and in other organized and unprovoked massacres.
The halachos of the Nine Days are meant to influence our thoughts and feelings during this time. An observant Jew is meant to be in a state of sadness these days, contemplating our losses, as a mourner would do. We are lacking if we don’t feel the losses in our hearts.
Parshas Devorim always comes prior to Tisha B’Av, for it recounts Moshe’s lecturing of the Bnei Yisroel for the sins they committed in the midbar.
Rashi (1:1) writes that all of the Jewish people were gathered together when Moshe addressed them. This miraculous occurrence that they should all be in one place and able to hear Moshe speak was brought on so that no person would ever be able to say that he missed the speech, but had he been there, he would have responded to Moshe. Therefore, everyone was there when he spoke, and Moshe said to them, “If you have anything to say, if you have a response to my criticism of you and what you did, speak up now.”
It seems a bit strange that at this late date in the extended travel through the desert, there would still be people who would castigate Moshe as he delivered parting words to Klal Yisroel, especially after he was reminding them of their past transgressions and how Hashem had punished them.
As Moshe continued his admonishment, we find in posuk 22 that Moshe reviews the story of the sin of the meraglim. He describes what went on and then (26-27) how the people reacted. “And you did not want to continue on the trip to the Promised Land and you rebelled against the word of Hashem. You sat in your tents besmirching Hashem and saying that He redeemed you from Mitzrayim because He hates you and wants to hand you over to the Emori nation to kill you.”
Moshe continues that at the time, he reprimanded them that Hashem would fight and care for them as He had done in the desert ever since He took them out of Mitzrayim. Yet, the people refused to believe. Hashem angered and swore that none of the people of that generation (besides Koleiv ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun) would see Eretz Yisroel.
In Parshas Shelach, the Torah recounts the story of the meraglim, yet there, instead of saying that the people complained in their tents, the posuk says that after hearing from the meraglim upon their return from Eretz Yisroel (Bamidbar 14:1), the people loudly wept about their misfortune that night.
The Gemara states (Taanis 29a, et al.) that Rava said in the name of Rabi Yochanon that it transpired on Tisha B’Av. Hashem heard their cries and said that since they cried for no reason, He would give them something to cry about on this day throughout the generations.
The Ramban (ibid.) writes that he doesn’t see how that is derived from the pesukim in Parshas Shelach. Rather, he cites the pesukim in Tehillim (106:24-27) that recount the sin of the meraglim, and there Hashem’s reaction is written differently. It says that Hashem swore that He would dump that generation in the midbar and would deposit their children and future generations among the nations of the world.
Rashi (Tehillim 106:27) writes that at that time, Hashem declared that the Botei Mikdosh would be destroyed, for this took place on Tisha B’Av, and Hashem said, “They wept for no reason; I will give them what to cry about throughout the generations.”
The sin of the meraglim was indeed grave. Although Hashem had repeatedly promised that He was bringing them to a blessed land, the people sent meraglim there to check out what the country was really like.
By doing so, they showed a lack of faith, yet for that we are not punished. The crime was that when those people returned from scouting out the land, they were able to convince the people that the land would be difficult to capture and inhabit. The Jewish people accepted their negative appraisal of what lay ahead of them and began to weep. They were led astray by wicked, talented, important people. Was it their fault that the meraglim were blessed with oratory skills with which to excite the Jewish people? Although the people should have maintained their faith in Hashem and heeded His promises, can we fault them for being human and having human feelings and fears? Why was accepting the report of the meraglim considered more of a sin than sending them in the first place?
It would seem that our faith in the word of Hashem must strong enough that we cannot be swayed, even by propogandists who are able to advance themselves with their ability to convince people to support them, though what they really care is their own personal agenda. We must be strong enough that we can see through the ruse and not be misled by charlatans who predict tragedy and failure, as well as those who promise happiness and bliss for following their misguided direction.
Having been freed from Mitzrayim and led for as long as anyone can remember by Moshe, a proven, faithful messenger of Hashem, anyone who could cry because he was misled by a speech by people arguing with Moshe and Hashem has fail as a Jew and deserves to be punished. When the entire people are misled and retreat to their homes to bemoan their fate, they have collectively failed and come close to forfeiting their future.
Thus, while perhaps the Jews could have explained that their desire for meraglim was an expression of permissible hishtadlus to see how they would enter and take over the land, nevertheless, when the Jewish people went into a collective depression following the report delivered by the people who were supposed to be aiding in permissible hishtadlus of populating the land, it showed that the sending of the spies was a sign of a lack of faith and trust in Hashem and Moshe.
Rav Mordechai Pogromansky boarded a train one Friday morning to take him to a town he was planning to visit for Shabbos. A man who was headed to the same town sat down next to him and they began talking. He was a mohel and shochet, as well as a talmid chochom, and took advantage of the opportunity to engage Rav Pogromansky in conversation. They became so engrossed in learning that they didn’t notice when the train stopped at the town where they had planned to spend Shabbos.
By the time the mohel realized that they were far past their intended stop, it was too late to do anything about it. There was no train going back to their intended destination before Shabbos. He turned to Rav Pogromansky and informed him of their predicament.
“We are lost,” he proclaimed. “We don’t know where we are. We have nowhere to stay. We don’t have wine for Kiddush, challos for lechem mishnah, or food lekavod Shabbos. What shall we do?”
Rav Mottel consoled him. “A Jew is never lost,” said the tzaddik. “When a Jew ends up in a certain place, it is always with Hashgocha Protis, because Hashem wants him there.”
The next stop was coming up, and even though through the window it appeared as if the area was sparsely populated and they didn’t know anyone who lived there, when the train stopped, they got off. They began asking people if there were any Jews in the town. Nobody could identify any. The mohel was growing pessimistic and stopped asking, but Rav Mottel didn’t give up. He continued to ask people if there was a Jew in town. Finally, his persistence paid off and one of the people he asked directed him to the home of the town’s only Jewish family. They hurried there and knocked on the door.
When the homeowner opened the door, he began shedding tears of joy. To him, it was as if Avrohom Avinu and Eliyohu Hanovi had appeared. The guests, however, let him know that they were normal human beings just like him who had been sent to his door min haShomayim. Very happily, the man let them in and invited them to stay for Shabbos.
When he heard that one of them was a mohel, his joy was multiplied. He told them his story.
“A week ago, my wife gave birth to a baby boy. Today is the day he should be having a bris. I was davening the whole day, begging and crying for Hashem to send me a mohel to perform the bris on my son. Behold, you have been sent by Heaven.”
Rav Mottel was the sandek as the mohel performed the bris. The two guests remained with the overjoyed couple for Shabbos.
When they left the home after Shabbos, Rav Mottel turned to the mohel and said, “Remember, a Jew is never lost.”
The Jewish people began to weep that they were lost, alone in a desert, and heading for disaster, and for that they were punished. A Jew is never alone, never ends up somewhere without a reason, and is never heading to a place that has not been chosen for him by Hashem.
The Chiddushei Horim (cited in Sefas Emes, Devorim 5656) explains why much of Moshe Rabbeinu’s mussar in Devorim was delivered through hints. He says that this is because the sins that Moshe was referring to were committed by the generation that had left Mitzrayim. By now, they had all died as punishment for the chet hameraglim.
Moshe was addressing their children, the next generation, who played no role in those sorry acts. However, the sins committed created a black hole, as it were, that existed in the following generation and exists until our day. Moshiach can only come when that sin is rectified. It is for this reason that Chazal say that a generation in which the Bais Hamikdosh hasn’t been rebuilt is equivalent to the one in which it was destroyed. It is because we have not completed the rectification for those sins – and have not stopped committing them – that we are still “lost” in the exile.
Much the same, we all know that the second Bais Hamikdosh was destroyed because of the hatred that was prevalent at the time. As the Gemara (Yoma 9b) states, “What was the main cheit that brought about the destruction of Bayis Sheini? Mikdosh Sheini shehoyu oskin baTorah uvemitzvos ugemillus chassodim, despite the fact that the people of that time busied themselves with Torah and mitzvos and charitable acts, it was destroyed because there was sinas chinom among them…”
The Yerushalmi presses the point further and proclaims, “We know that the people at the time of the churban Bayis Sheini would delve into Torah and were punctilious in their observance of mitzvos and the laws of maaseros, and possessed every proper middah, but they loved money and hated each other for no reason,” and that is why the churban was brought on.
We, in golus, are to repent for that sin and rectify it. Instead, we are still plagued by hatred and division. Disputes fester and grow, involving more people who deride each other.
When the Torah (Shemos 3:2) describes the famed burning bush, the posuk states that Moshe viewed the bush and behold, “hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, vehasneh ainenu ukol, the bush burned on fire and the bush was not consumed.”
The Kli Yokor questions that since the fire was burning and not the bush, instead of saying that the bush burned on fire, hasneh bo’eir ba’eish, the posuk should have said that the fire burned within the bush.
He answers that this hints to the idea that hatred – sneh is similar to sinah – that people have for each other causes aish, fire, to burn within the Jewish people and is the leading cause of why we are still in exile after all these years.
It is amazing that for over two thousand years, we have not been able to rid our people of sinas chinom. Petty fights, jealousies, and battles that seem senseless in hindsight and to people who aren’t participating in them have roiled our people for centuries and continue until this very day.
Somehow, in the midbar so many years ago, sinas chinom also crept into our DNA. It is not enough to be baalei chesed. It is not sufficient to be charitable, to be medakdeik bemitzvos, and to learn Torah day and night. We have to also stop the sinas chinom. We have to bring people together. We have to stop the different machlokos that rage in our world.
Am Yisroel is a blessed nation, the am hanivchar. We have what nobody else has. Who else has a day as beautiful and rejuvenating as Shabbos? Who else has joyous Yomim Tovim and mitzvos that provide meaning for life? Who else has the Torah to pursue, study and live by? Who else has a life of depth and meaning? There is nobody else who has what we have. Yet, we have certain deficiencies that we are unable to get out of our system.
If people who take advantage of others would not be tolerated, if they would be boycotted and shunned, they would be forced to change. If people who cause machlokes would be admonished in a way that everybody knows that there are repercussions for squabbles and fights and divisive actions, they would think twice before starting a fight.
If we would realize our greatness and recognize that the reason we so often appear lost and under attack in golus is because we have work to do and things to rectify, then Tisha B’Av wouldn’t be a day of sadness and mourning, but instead would be a glorious Yom Tov.
May it happen quickly in our day.