"But you did not want to go up, and you rebelled against the commandment of HaShem, your G-d."
We begin this Shabbat the fifth and final book of the five books of Torah known in Hebrew as the Chumash, (literally, "five"), the book of Deuteronomy. In Hebrew it is simply called Devarim, (words), as it relates the words which Moshe spoke to the children of Israel over the final thirty seven days of his life on earth. One of the first incidents Moshe recalls is also one of the most painful in Israel's history, the incident of the twelve spies who went up to the land of Israel and returned to the nation with an evil and discouraging report.
Moshe rebukes his people yet again concerning this most unfortunate matter, and, in fact, sheds much new light on what really transpired. But why is he telling all this to the nation now? After all, the contemporaries of the spies have all, by now, died in the desert, their reward, as it were, for their lack of faith in G-d. The adults whom Moshe is now addressing were mere children when the spies returned from Israel on the ninth of Av thirty-nine years earlier. And as for the youngsters, the story of the spies must have sounded like ancient history to them. Why rebuke and exhort a people for a crime committed by a generation now deceased?
The Torah reading of Devarim is always read each year on the Shabbat preceding Tish'a b'Av, the 9th of Av. And for all of us who read it today, the aforementioned question demands to be asked even more emphatically. Not only did we read about the spies a mere six weeks ago, (parashat Shlach), but the incident of the spies truly is ancient history, having happened over three thousand years ago.
Truth be told, the retelling of the story of the spies who entered the land, saw its goodness, yet lost heart and spread their defeatism to the entire nation, is a story that has never concluded, an open wound upon the soul of Israel. This upcoming Tuesday, July 20th, is the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the return of the spies. It also marks the precise date of the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temple, as well as many other subsequent tragedies in the history of the Jewish nation. When G-d told Israel that the unprovoked tears that they shed over the land on that 9th day of Av in the desert would be repaid by a real reason to weep on the ninth, He meant what He said.
The name given to the three week period of mourning which we observe over the destruction of the Holy Temple, (beginning with the 17th of Tammuz and concluding with the 9th of Av), is known as bein hametzarim, literally between the narrow places. But it can also be understood as bein haMitzraim, between the Egypts, that is, between the exile and bondage which is imposed upon us from without, by our oppressors, and the exile and bondage that we impose upon ourselves from within, through our own fear and weakness, our own lack of faith in ourselves and in G-d.
The story of the spies remains crucial and relevant to us today, and, in fact, more so today than ever. For the first time in two thousand years the nation of Israel is in the position to finally put an end to the day of weeping incurred by the sin of the spies. For the first time since the Romans destroyed the Holy Temple in the year 70 CE and the long night of exile began, Israel is poised to right the wrong, to rebuild the house that G-d instructed us to build, so that He may dwell amongst us, and to serve, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, as a light to the nations.
Resigning ourselves to an annual day of mourning for the Holy Temple, and absolving ourselves of the imperative to build it, today, is not merely a prolongation of the tragedy of the spies, but a reenactment of the sin. In the words of Moshe:
"And I said to you, 'Do not be broken or afraid of them. HaShem, your G-d, Who goes before you He will fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the desert, where you have seen how HaShem, your G-d, has carried you as a man carries his son, all the way that you have gone, until you have come to this place.'" (ibid 1:29-31) "This place" - the Hebrew word hamakom - when used in Torah is understood by our sages to always refer to the Holy Temple. We who dwell in the land today must not be afraid, for G-d will surely assist and assure our success, if only we make every effort to leave the house of mourning, and to build the house of G-d. In this place. Today.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the concept of "baseless love:" What does it really mean, and how do we use it as a means for building the Holy Temple? Unity and a longing for the Holy Temple were prominently evident in this week's Sivuv She'arim, Encirclement of the Temple Mount Gates procession in honor of the new month of Av, which attracted 12,000 people. The same message was on everybody's lips: Stop mourning already! What are we waiting for? Build!