Devarim is Moshe our Teacher’s farewell address to the Jewish people. Before he dies, he prepares the Jewish people to enter the Land of Israel. Thus, this book contains a review of many of the mitzvot we have previously learned, as well as an introduction to additional mitzvot that apply in our Holy Land.
However, Moshe starts with a review of the events in the desert. Initially, this is done through mentioning places we traveled. Rashi notes that this was done as a gentle rebuke to all the Jewish people in order to preserve our honor. Through simply mentioning of the locations, we would remember the sins committed there.
Yet the sin of the spies, which changed the course of our history, is explicitly discussed. Though Hashem told us He was giving us the Land of Israel, we cried when 10 of the 12 spies gave an evil report, saying we would not be able to take possession of the land. Therefore, we were punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert.
The Rabbis of the Talmud teach that this was the first tragedy that occurred on Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av). Because we cried for no reason, Hashem set that day as the day that the greatest tragedies in our people’s history would occur — the destruction of both the First and Second Holy Temples in Yerushalayim. Those destructions are the root cause of all of our suffering since then. Everything stems back to the sin of the spies.
What is particularly sad is that none of this had to happen. It was only 11 days from Mount Sinai until Kadesh Barnea, the location the spies were sent from to view the Land of Israel. Rashi notes that if not for the event of the spies, we would have marched quickly into the Land of Israel and taken possession of our inheritance without even the need to fight. (As seen in Sefer Yehoshua, even 40 years later the Canaanites knew of the miracles Hashem had done for us and were scared.) Moshe would have been the Mashiach. The Holy Temple would have been built and would have lasted forever. Instead, we ended up with the tragedies of Tisha B’Av. It didn’t have to be this way.
It is no coincidence that we read this parshah just prior to Tisha B’Av. We are reminded of the sin that caused this to be the ultimate date that lives in infamy. As we have a tradition that the Mashiach will be born on a Tisha B’Av, we have the opportunity to consider what we may do to remedy the sins of our past in order to merit the complete redemption of the future.
The sin of the spies was to doubt our ability to posses the Land. Have we done enough to assert our rights to the land Hashem has given us? Have we done enough to show our gratitude to Him for returning to us much of this land? Have we done enough to support the State of Israel? Have we yearned to make aliyah? Unlike the spies, do we recognize that dwelling in the Land of Israel must be the goal of every Jew?
The Rabbis teach us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to the sin of unjustified hatred of fellow Jews. We hated our brothers and sisters simply because we disagreed with them. Have we done enough to promote love of each and every Jew?
Tisha B’Av didn’t have to be this way. We must do our part to help bring the Jewish People to a time when Tisha B’Av can be a day of rejoicing at a rebuilt Holy Temple in Yerushalayim.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the menahel (principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia.