Devarim, the last of the Five Books of Moses, contains the words of rebuke and encouragement given by Moshe to his people in the last days of his illustrious life. As he tells of the highlights of the Israelites’ travels over the 40 years in the desert, the tale of the spies surfaces as a key turning point in the history of our people. At the request of the masses and with the consent of G-d, Moshe agrees to send a group of righteous leaders, one from each tribe, to investigate the nature of the Promised Land and its inhabitants. Supposedly, with the information in hand, a strategy for conquering the land would then be devised.
But history would not work out as planned. The spies returned with a negative, fear-instilling report. ‘‘The land is good, but the inhabitants are just too strong for us to conquer and remove from the land,” they announced. The people started to cry and then rebel in spite of the assurances of Yehoshua and Calev. Hashem in His anger decided to kill off the entire generation during 40 years of wandering in the desert before allowing their children to enter the land as conquerors. “Tonight you cried for no reason,” He declared. “Therefore, you will cry for generations on this night.”
And so it has been for thousands of years: the mazal, luck, of the Jewish people has been bad on that night, the night of Tishah B’Av. The First and the Second Temple were destroyed by gentile armies — on Tishah B’Av. The city of Betar was pillaged and hundreds of thousands of our gentle brethren were slaughtered — on Tishah B’Av. The Jews were expelled from Spain — on the night of Tishah B’Av. The terrible history of the destruction of European Jewry in Europe at the hands of the Nazis, ym’’s, began with the political upheaval of World War I, which, not coincidentally, began on the night of Tishah B’Av in 1914.
What connection is there between the sin of the spies and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem? What can we do to right the wrong and end the exile that we have been suffering for so many years?
Our Sages explain that the people who lived at the time of the Temple’s destruction by the Romans learned Torah, did mitzvot and performed acts
of kindness. Why was the Temple destroyed? Because of sin’at chinam — baseless hatred.
Jealousy and selfishness create differences among people. ‘‘Why does he drive such a nice car and I pray that mine will start every time I put the key in the ignition?’’ or, “I work so hard and do everything with impeccable honesty, so how come his business is flying and mine can’t show a profit?’’ Questions like these are at the root of baseless hatred. They doubt the correctness of G-d’s “distribution system.” You might even go so far as to say that they reveal a lack of faith!
Herein lies the connection between the sin of the spies and the destruction of the Temple. The people became frightened by the report of the spies because they lacked faith in G-d’s ability to deliver the Promised Land in the face of mighty enemies. The people at the fall of Jerusalem suffered from jealousy and selfishness which are rooted in a lack of faith and are manifest in sinat chinam — baseless hatred. The night of retribution for both is the same Tishah B’Av!
This year, as we prepare for the fast of Tishah B’Av, we must get into a mode of “corrective surgery.” Drastic steps must be taken if we are to heal the wounds of exile and bring the salvation and the restoration of glory to our people. “Love thy neighbor”must be actively pursued. Lashon hara must be eliminated. Jealousy and selfishness must be exorcised from our personalities. It’s all a matter of faith!
Our Rabbis teach that the way to learn how to correct our character is through the study of Torah. A regular program of Torah study, with the intent to correct our faults, can bring perfection of our traits and, with that, the Redemption we so sorely need.
May we all be successful in doing all that we must in order to bring the Geulah — our Salvation — speedily in our days. Amen.
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.