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August 10, 2008: Tisha B’Av Reflections

August 9, 2008

With full acknowledgement to Rav Ari Kahn, whose Tisha B’Av shiur (lesson) I attended this morning.  Sharing the essence of the message…


We are taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of the spies.


The children of Israel had been brought out of Egypt by God, and received the Torah at Sinai and had come to the edge of Canaan, which had been promised to the people by the Almighty.  Moses sent 12 spies, one from each tribe, to check out the Land.  They returned with disastrous stories of the impossibility of entering and conquering the Land.  Ten of the 12 spies were exceedingly negative (the two who were not were Caleb and Joshua, who later inherited the mantle of leadership from Moses). 


What did they say?  “…we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes!”


There was no way for the spies to know how they were perceived by the inhabitants of Canaan — what they said was a projection.  For it was in their OWN eyes that they were like grasshoppers.


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The sin was in seeing themselves as being no more than “like grasshoppers,” and thus incapable of fulfilling their God-given mission:  In not understanding who they were, not remembering what had already been done for them, and ultimately not rallying to see through what they were charged to do. 


When they conveyed this negative perception to the people on their return, they generated fear, and the people wept.  And so God delayed the entry of the people into the Land by 40 years.


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For me, the parallel of this lesson to today’s situation is painful. Those in positions of power here, almost to a person, see themselves “like grasshoppers.”  They are unable to comprehend the strength of our nation, or grasp our purpose.  After 2,000 years of exile, following that Second Destruction, we have been given the merit of returning to the Land.  But we do not have leaders who stand strong in this recognition. They are, instead, always afraid, unable to claim our heritage and our rights  — worrying what the world will say, making concessions, conceding fault. 


In seeing themselves “like grasshoppers,” those at the helm of our nation risk all that we are meant to be.


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An essay by Rabbi David Algaze, shared with me by Izzy Kaplan, on this very theme, is called “Fear of Power.”  I have not discovered a URL for this piece, which would enable you to access in its entirety, but I wish to share portions of it here:


“…They [the spies] instilled fear in the hearts of the nation. That fear is the feebleness that has plagued the people of Israel until the present and that is the reason for the perpetuity of the night of Tish’a be’Ab. The same lack of courage that afflicted our ancestors continued to trouble their children. Sadly, as long as that absence of vigor continues to rule our hearts there is going to be a Tish’a Be’Ab in our calendar…


“In our times we need to reflect on the reason why Tish’a Be’Ab still exists among us….Have we developed the courage that Hashem expects from us and are [we] ready to ascend to the Land?  Would we become heirs of the weak-minded, whining and weeping men of that generation or would we be the children of Caleb and Joshua who did not doubt the strength and power of Israel?  


“…Rav Filber suggests that our generation suffers from a sense of inferiority that is the result of our experience in Exile. The return of Israel to its land requires a new spirit, the courage to fight for what is ours and a determination not to flinch at the hour of confrontation with the enemies of Israel. 


“…Tish’a Be’Ab is indeed a sad reminiscence but it can also become the beginning of the Redemption. The Rabbis predict that the Messiah will be born on this day and that Tish’a Be’Ab will one day become a major holiday of rejoicing (mo’ed). This promise will be realized only when Israel will shed its weeping stance and affirm  its power and strength in front of the whole world.” 


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