LTTN med xp logoThe Sin of the "Spies" and the Lessons of Tisha B'Av

July 19, 1999

1999 Light to the Nations, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved

Sins Against the Land of Israel: The Red Line

One of the principles for understanding the Torah's message for every generation is a concept known as "that which transpired to the forefathers, is a sign for their children." This means that their descendants will find that their own experiences, and all that which they must go through, are a repetition of what happened in previous generations. For history does repeat itself, and G-d expects us to learn from the past for the benefit of our children's future. This is true both on the individual and national levels... and like every other challenge in a Torah-true life, the real question is: Will we have the courage, the integrity, and the sensitivity to learn from our history and do what we must, to rectify mistakes of the past...  in short, will we have the strength to dedicate ourselves to G-d, in every aspect of our lives?

The solemn fast of Tisha B'Av will be observed this year beginning Wednesday evening, and until nightfall on Thursday. This day culminates the period of national mourning which began on the 17th of Tammuz. While the Jewish people have gone through much travail in the past 2,000 years, and this period commemorates a number of calamities which befell our people throughout history, the main focus of this period is the destruction of both Holy Temples.

We have existed in exile for nearly 2,000 years. And the reason for this exile was born on the very first  Tisha B'Av, when the Jewish people listened to the evil, faithless report of the returning spies, and spent the evening crying - over nothing. The spies turned the hearts and spirits of the people against the land. Despite the efforts of Calev and Yehoshua, the people refused to take heart, and refused to be comforted. Thus, this date was established by G- d as a day which will be fit for crying in every successive generation... for this was a sin which He could not forgive.

When we reflect upon all which transpired from the time the Jews left Egypt until this first Tisha B'Av, we can begin to realize just how serious the sin of the 'spies' was - and why. After all, the people of Israel constantly showed a lack of faith in G-d from the very beginning - after all the signs and miracles which they witnessed in Egypt, after they were delivered from there, while yet on the shore of the Sea, they doubted that He would help them. And after all which He did for them, leading them from slavery to freedom and bringing them to the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, just forty days after this revelation, they commit the gravest transgression of all: idolatry in the form of the golden calf. Yet the Holy One, blessed be He, was ready to forgive these sins, even the sin of idolatry.

Yet when it came to speaking 'lashon hara,' evil speech about Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel - and the people believing it - even though G-d was ready to forgive the sin of idolatry, he was not able to forgive the sin of speaking against the Land of Israel. He decreed that this generation, that doubted the Land’s goodness, would not merit to enter.

It is well known that the earlier generations of Zionist pioneers who founded the State of Israel were not dedicated to the Torah; on the contrary, some did not believe in G-d altogether, and sought to create a state where Jews would be no different from any other people. Yet despite this, because of the immense dedication which these valiant men and women had for the Land of Israel, preparing and defending the Land for their Jewish brethren at great personal cost, even risking death, they demonstrated the great inner holiness which burned within them. For if they believed in nothing else, they still believed in the redemptive capacity of Eretz Yisrael itself... and in a sense, it was the redemption which they sought to bring about through their struggle for the Land of Israel.

Our generation, however, is now confronted with a denial and a historical revision of these basic Zionist values. We have seen from history that G-d was able to forgive those who did not believe in His Torah, or even in Him. But when it came to sins against the Land of Israel... that is something else altogether. The people of Israel would do well to learn from the sin of the spies, and refrain from committing sins against the land. The question that we must ask ourselves is: if one does not even believe in the land... what is left? Indeed, let us see to it that history does not repeat itself...

May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the Ninth of Av turned into a joyous holiday!

Rabbi Chaim Richman