how to cancel Tisha B'av

When God saw the people cry at the report of the spies, he decreed that the entire generation would perish in the wilderness over the next 40 years. In reaction, the people came to Moses contritely, admitted that they had sinned, and declared that they were ready to go up to the land of Israel right away. Moses refused them permission, saying that God would not be with them and they would be destroyed.

That is what happened. They attempted to go up to the land the next day, and were chased back by the Canaanites and Amalekites to a place, or situation, called "Destruction." Why was there repentance not accepted? After all, they didn't wait! They immediately wanted to correct the sin and go into The Land. What did they do wrong?

The Seforno puts it in stark terms. Initially, the people have refused to go to the land from fear. They failed to obey God and Moses, and cried in their tents that night. Now, they again refuse to obey God and Moses by insisting on going up. This time, however, their disobedience is not because of fear, but because of rebelliousness. They are rejecting God's decision and Moses's instruction. They are repeating the sin of the spies, although this time as an open rebellion.

But I think there is something more involved. Caleb, alone among the spies, chose to stand with Joshua and Moses. He gave the other spies the impression he was in with them, but at the fateful moment, stood up and told the people "let us go up to the land, for we certainly can conquer it." Where did he get the courage and determination to do so?

A fascinating and novel understanding of this entire story is waiting to be discovered. And that is, that the sin of the spies is a repeat of the sale of Joseph. At the end of the previous Torah reading, we read about two men, Eldad and Medad, who were reciting prophecies in the midst of the camp. What were they saying? "Moses is going to die, and Joshua will need the people into the land of Israel."

Now, the spies that Moses sent were all princes of their tribes. Each of them was a potential successor to Moses. Moses knew this, and feared for the welfare of his disciple, Joshua. Just as the brothers had attempted to remove Joseph as a potential leader, Moses fear the spies would do the same to Joshua. Therefore, he prayed for him, "May God protect you from the plotting of the spies."

What Moses had not imagined was that the spies would be willing to sacrifice the land of Israel in order to prevent that prophecy from coming true! He did not expect an answer in the spirit of the mother who, when King Solomon said to cut the child in half in order to be fair to the two claimants, said, "I will not have him, and you will not have him."

But that is what happened. The sin of the spies was not simply fear of entering the land of Israel. It was using the land of Israel as a bludgeon against a fellow Jew. It was the extreme of selfishness, and it was the same sin that caused the destruction of the Holy Temple on that same calendar date.

The hero of the story of Joseph was Judah. He stood before Jacob and proclaimed, about Benjamin, "I am his guarantor. Demand his safety from my hand. If I do not bring him back to my father, I will be sinning to my father all of my days." Judah taught us the principle of mutual responsibility. We are inextricably interwoven with each other and must be together as a people. The definition of togetherness is not necessarily agreeing or thinking the same, but rather it is standing together as one people at all times. The four species we shake on Sukkot represent the spectrum of Jews, from the most observant and knowledgeable to the least so. Nonetheless, we are moved, we are shaken, but we remain bound together. The people of Israel, the Land of Israel, the God of Israel, all together.

My teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, of blessed memory, explained that this is the origin of our national name, the Jews. Jew comes from Judah, and expresses this idea of mutual responsibility and destiny. Yes, it is also because we are descended, for the most part, from the tribe of Judah. But that, also, it is because of this attribute. The 10 lost Tribes disappeared because they refused to stand together with the rest of the people. They rebelled, they seceded. They disappeared. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the King, and to the Temple in Jerusalem.

If the spies were all rivals to Joshua for the leadership of the people, there was no stronger rival than Caleb. From the tribe of Judah, the mantle of leadership could authentically be given to him. And, yet, he alone refused to be part of that game. This was because he understood that what was at play was not who was more eligible to be the leader. The question was, do we stand together or not? His deep sense of areivut, of mutual responsibility, required him to stand with Joshua and Moses, and with God.

Now we can understand why, on that very next day, the people's attempt to go to Israel was an additional sin, rather than repentance. When Moses told them that God would not go with them, they needed to choose togetherness. They needed to say, "if the whole nation comes, we will come. If not, we will stand with the people, wherever they are."

And an additional point. The spies were right, Canaanites and Amalekites were stronger than the Israelites. But they were not stronger than the Israelites plus God! The spies had used the word "Efes, or nothing." If we go forth with nothing, they will clobber us. We go forth with One, the one God, in Unity and oneness, we are invincible. The Israelites who attempted to go into Israel the day after, went forth with efes-nothing, and not with One.

So, how can we cancel the fast of Tisha b'Av? By understanding the true dynamics of the sin of the spies. We need to choose to love The Land of Israel, so much so that no politics or arguments can get in the way of that love. We need to choose to love our fellow people of Israel, so much so that no disagreements can cause us to stand apart. And, finally, we need to choose to love God, so much so that if God does not wish us to leave the camp, we stay with God.

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