The first Tisha B’Av was a warm, muggy night in the Sinai
Wilderness. The entire nation was anxiously awaiting the
return of the scouts that Moses sent to check out the Promised
Land. After 40 long days the scouts finally return.
Their report was disastrous.
Sounds like CNN or The
New York Times today.
* * *
3317 years ago today (Tisha B’Av) many tears were
shed over Israel. That night the scouts
that Moses sent returned with a slanderous report about
the Land of Israel:
“We cannot go forward against those people [living in
They are too strong for us.”
As a result “the entire community rose in uproar and begin
to cry; the people wept that night” (Numbers 14:1). In one
of the most defiant acts in history, the entire Jewish nation
rejected the land promised to them and their ancestors by
3317 years later we are
still crying over Israel. This time it’s for the many innocent lives
lost, families shattered and cities destroyed by enemies who want to eliminate
the Jewish land.
Is there a connection
between these three millennia of tears?
The Talmud tells us that
because of the tears they shed that fateful night 3317 years ago we cry every
Tisha B’Av. “You wept (that night) for no reason; I will designate (that night
as) a weeping for generations…” (Taanit 29a). As a result of the scouts slander
and the Jewish tears Tisha B’av was born: G-d decreed that the entire nation
would not enter the Promised Land, and from then on, to this very day, Tisha
B’Av would become a night of tears and grief: On that day both Temples are
destroyed, Beitar is vanquished and Jerusalem is plowed. And for thousands
of years, each year on that day we grieve for our losses.
Isn’t this punishment unjust? Why should generations suffer
for the tears shed in vain 3317 years ago by a nation not
wanting to enter the Promised Land?
The Promised Land is not
merely a nice place to live, a retirement village or a cool vacation spot.
It is the spiritual heartbeat of the universe; the portal between heaven and earth.
Israel is therefore called
the Holy Land because it is the physical manifestation
of the fusion between the spiritual and the material – between the human and
the Divine. Holiness means something that simply has less egocentric layers
that block out the inner Divine energy.
The centrality of Israel
is actually a psycho/spiritual centrality; the purpose of the Holy
Land is to serve as the bridge to holiness that will ultimately transform
the rest of the world. The Holy Land represents a state
of sanctity within each of our souls, and its ability to integrate with our
physical lives. Its role as Promised Land – the land promised to Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob, the land that consumes the journey of the Jewish people throughout
the wilderness – is the destination to which we all aspire.
No wonder nations and religions throughout history have all longed to conquer
this small piece of geography. Everyone gravitates to this
land. Unconsciously, ever nation, religion and individual
senses that the Holy land is the spiritual vortex of existence,
the place where the doors open up to reach the Divine. (See
at length Israel:
The Inside Story).
If Israel is the spiritual center
of all life, why did the scouts and the entire nation slander the Promised
Land and refuse to enter it?! Why were they intimidated by the “strong” people
The answer in one word
is: Galut – spiritual displacement. In this dark world things are not in their
correct place. The wicked prosper as the good suffer. The material universe
is not aligned with its spiritual purpose. Our personal lives are not seamless
reflections of our soul’s cravings.
In this state of spiritual
dissonance who suffers most? Israel and its connection to the Jewish people.
Were the world aligned with its higher purpose, the scouts and the Jewish
nation would have wholeheartedly embraced their destiny and marched forward
to the Promised Land. If existence was in sync with its calling, the Holy Land would be cherished and protected by all, and Jews would live
there in total peace and harmony. But the universe has not yet reached that
place, and as a result the Jewish people and their land suffer a tenuous relationship.
Just look at history –
our best teacher. Israel
was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be their children’s homeland,
but it does not come easily – not thousands of years ago and not today. Jacob
is living at peace in Israel,
at home studying and growing, and then he is forced to escape his brother’s
wrath and build a family outside of Israel. After Jacob returns and is ready to settle
down, his beloved Joseph is torn away from him. And then Jacob and family
are forced to leave Israel
and travel to Egypt
due to the famine.
After hundreds of years
in bitter Egyptian bondage, the Jewish people finally leave Egypt on their way to the
Promised Land. What happens? The scouts come back with their tragic report
and the Jews are forced to wander 40 years in the wilderness. And that entire
generation (except for two people, Joshua and Caleb) never enters the land.
Even the great Moses,
the man of G-d who sacrificed his entire life to enter the Promised Land,
is not allowed in. In this week’s Torah chapter (appropriately always read
after Tisha B’av) we read how Moses beseeches G-d with 515 prayers to allow
him to enter the Promised Land.
“O G-d, What force is
there in heaven or earth who can perform deeds and mighty acts as You do?”
“Please,” Moses pleads, “please let me cross and allow me to see the good
land beyond the Jordan,
the goodly mountain and Lebanon.
“But G-d was angry with
me because of you and would not listen to me, and G-d said to me: Enough.
Say no more about this matter.”
The weeping caused by
the scouts slander on that sad Tisha B’Av night affected even Moses…
But it doesn’t end there.
Joshua finally leads the Jews into Israel, they conquer the land and build their
homes, settling into the land. Close to five hundred years later King Solomon
builds the first Temple, only for
it to be destroyed 410 years later by the Babylonians. Then Ezra and Nechemia
build the second Temple, and it too
is destroyed 420 years later by the Romans, which begins our long exile.
It seems that the Jews
and the Holy Land cannot remain at peace for any extended
Ok, another two tragic millennia pass. The Jewish people
suffer terribly in countless, immeasurable ways. Though
there was always a Jewish presence in Israel, until the last century
the land remained desolate. Finally, in the 20th
century, after the decimation of a third of the Jewish population
by the German Nazis and the silent world, the Jews return
to Israel en-masse and begin to rebuild the land, Immigration
to the Holy Land grows by leaps and bounds, until this year
(2006) Israel surpasses the United States to be home to
the single largest segment of Jewish population. Now you
would think, after all we have endured, things should be
calm. But no, war plagues Israel – again, again and again.
The big question is: Why?
Why must it be so difficult? Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough? After
millennia of pain the Jews have been allowed to return to their homeland.
Why must they still fight for it? Why must they send their young and brave
men to the battlefield to protect the lives of Israel’s citizens?
The answer lies in Moses’
words: After G-d rejects Moses’ cries to enter the land, Moses does not shrink
away in defeat. Moses, the true leader that he was, instructs the people
how they can earn the right “to occupy the land that G-d is giving you.” Follow
the Divine laws and rules, “Do not add…and do not subtract from the commandments.”
By doing so you will merit to live peacefully in the Holy
What about the other nations
of the world? Will they allow us to live in peace in the Holy
Land? Without missing a beat, Moses continues: “Protect and keep these laws,
for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations. They
will hear all these rules and say: ‘This great nation is certainly a wise
and understanding people. What nation is so great that they have G-d close
to it as G-d is when we call Him? What nation is so great that they have such
righteous rules and laws?”
take heed and watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not forget the
things that your eyes saw. Do not let [this memory] leave your hearts all
the days of your lives. Teach your children and children’s children abut the
day you stood before G-d at Horeb [Sinai]”.
The only way to live in true peace in Israel, Moses says, is to
embrace your Divine calling and all nations will respect you. And this calling
is so just that all nations will recognize that these are the most “righteous
rules and laws.”
The Jewish people and
the Jewish land are not for Jews alone. Life’s purpose is not to merely take
care of yourself and escape into your own paradise. The Torah, the Jews and
the land are here to be a “light unto nations” – to proclaim to the world
that G-d exists and that we all must live up to our calling. To illuminate
the universe with the Divine message that we must all transform our lives
and the corner of our world into a spiritual home.
As long as the world is
not there, Israel
and the Jews cannot be at peace. This, in a nutshell, is the story of all
Peace in Israel,
in the spiritual hub of the universe, will bring peace to
the entire world. The Jewish search for the Promised Land
is not some partisan, nationalistic effort. It is not just
a “Jewish” thing, but a universal one. It is
one with the global search of all mankind to find peace
between heaven and earth, between spirit and matter. When
Israel becomes our spiritual center, and Jews recognize
their spiritual connection to Israel, what results is a
more sensitive world, a more peaceful universe – a
universe that recognizes the inherent sanctity in all human
beings, Jew or non-Jew, Christian or Muslim, Israeli or
Arab. (see Israel
and the Non-Jews).
The tears shed 3317 years
ago on Tisha B’Av were an expression of the tension between the Jewish people
and the land, reflecting the tension of the entire world and its purpose.
We are still suffering
for the cries on that fateful Tisha B’Av 3317 years ago.
Today’s crisis in the
Middle East is a wake-up call for all citizens of Israel, and indeed for all
citizens of the world.
Citizens of the world:
Rise and take up arms. Help protect the Holy Land from
desecration and devastation. This is not merely a war of some terrorists against
the Jews in Israel. It is a war against us all; against all
free people; against the principles of our entire civilization. Jews living
peacefully in Israel
is a sign of the entire world living at peace with each other. And Jews under
attack means that the entire world is under attack.
When Jews live in their
Promised Land in peace, all the citizens of the world will live in their promised
lands in peace. That’s how it was thousands of years ago, and that’s how it
Both Jews in Israel
and outside of Israel, both Jews and non-Jews,
must ask ourselves the question: After all these years,
are we still slandering the Promised Land of Israel? After
all these years, what are we doing to protect and cherish
the Promised Land?
* * *
Question of the week: Do you believe
there is a connection between our spiritual/virtuous behavior
and the current events in Israel? Do our actions, for
good or bad, effect the war in the Middle
East? Or should the two be kept apart?
a question for future weeks.