Rabbi Reuven Taragin
Educational Director, World Mizrachi
The moment has finally arrived. After hundreds of years in Egyptian exile and over a year of desert challenges, the Jews are finally ready to return to Eretz Yisrael. Hashem has performed amazing miracles and has promised to help them conquer and settle the land. Great prospects lie ahead!
Unfortunately, the first desert generation did not realize these prospects. The Meraglim’s report undermined their faith. They spent the night of the Ninth of Av crying over the prospect of entering Eretz Yisrael and Tisha B’Av became the day for future Jewish national calamities.
Those who cried that first Tisha B’Av night had experienced great miracles including G-d’s revelation and giving of the Torah at Sinai and the defeat of the mighty Egyptian people in Egypt and Egyptian army at Yam Suf. After these experiences, we expect the Jewish people to be confident about Hashem’s Eretz Yisrael promises.
This is why the Chet Hameraglim is so surprising. The Canaanite inhabitants of Israel were indeed strong and their cities and embattlements were indeed high and mighty, but could the Jews possibly have doubted Hashem’s ability to overcome them?
This question is part of what inspired many commentaries to offer other explanations for the Jews’ fears on that first Tisha B’Av night. Most famously many commentators suggest that what the Jews actually feared was losing the high spiritual level they enjoyed living in the desert as beneficiaries of Hashem’s miracles and sustenance.
Interestingly, the Torah itself (in another place) offers a different explanation for the Jews’ fear. When Moshe retells the story of that fateful night in Parshat Devarim he quotes the Jewish people as having bemoaned the fact that Hashem had brought them to Eretz Yisrael in order to exterminate them out of hatred for them:
(ותרגנו באהליכם ותאמרו בשנאת ה’ אתנו הוציאנו מארץ מצרים לתת אתנו ביד האמרי להשמידנו” (דברים א:כז”
“You mourned in your tents and said ‘Motivated by hatred of us Hashem took us out of Egypt to hand us over to the Emori to exterminate us.’” (Devarim 1:27)
The Seforno (ad loc) explains that surely the Jews had no doubt of Hashem’s ability to vanquish the Emori. The Jews fears were not about Hashem’s ability, but His intentions. They thought that Hashem intended to use the Emori to punish them for their idol worship in Egypt.
Even this explanation of the Jews’ fears is surprising. Would Hashem do all that he had done (the exodus, Yam Suf, Sinaitic revelation…) if his intention was for them to be exterminated?
Rashi (ad loc) explains that, though Hashem truly loved the Jewish people (and had shown His love many times over the previous months), the Jews disliked Him and therefore assumed the feelings to have been mutual. How we perceive Hashem’s feelings towards us hinges on how we feel towards Him.
Rashi’s words remind us of Chazal’s explanation of the Mergalim’s perception of how they were perceived by Israel’s giants. The Meraglim reported that ‘we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes (Bamidbar 13:33).’ Interestingly the Meraglim first describe how they saw themselves and only after how they were seen by others. The S’fat Emet (Shelach 5640) explains that indeed it was only ‘because they were small in their own eyes that they were perceived that way by others.’
The Jews of the desert generation, possibly because of their slavery background, seem to have had low (literal and figurative) self esteem. This impacted how they assumed others – both man and G-d – perceived them and kept them from appreciating their potential based on Hashem’s promised assistance to them.
The lack of appreciation of our relationship with Hashem has continued generating national suffering over the millennia since that first Tisha B’Av. As we merit experiencing the first stages of our redemption we need to reflect on how to correct not only the sin of the first Tisha B’av, but also its root cause.
Rav Yaakov Yosef of Polenya, the grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, quotes his grandfather as having been told ‘min hashamayim’ (from heaven) that Moshiach’s coming is delayed because Jews don’t recite the bracha of Ahava Rabba with enough intention.
The first generation of Jews lost the opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael because they lacked an appreciation of the true love Hashem had for them. Subsequent generations suffered Beit Mikdash destructions and other calamities because they too failed to appreciate the importance of their relationship with Hashem and His love for them.
We merit living in a generation where Hashem has showed His great love for us by both returning us to Eretz Yisrael and by facilitating our continued safety, growth, and success here. We facilitate the continuation of this process by internalizing our appreciation of Hashem’s love for us and expressing our appreciation of this by serving Him with a totality of heart and soul appropriate for a generation that has so much to appreciate.
May we serve Hashem with a love that encompasses our full hearts and souls!