Sunday, July 24, 2016

Calves and Spies and Summertime

Hate the sin, love the sinner
Mahatma Gandhi

Summer in Israel is almost schizophrenic. On one hand, the kids are on vacation, it’s hot, the pools are full, it’s time to plan a family vacation, and left right and center people seem to be getting engaged and married.

On the other hand, smack dab in the middle of all the fun and pool and heat, it’s the three weeks; the time between 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, where festivities are banned, weddings, movies, haircuts are forbidden, and even bathing is limited. These three weeks really put a damper on summer fun. I propose getting rid of this mournful time, and replacing it with a time of joy.

I have a plan.

But first, let’s have a look at the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, the days that begin and end the three-week period of mourning.

Five events occurred in Tammuz, causing it to be a month of sorrow:
  1. The breaking of the tablets of the law by Moshe Rabbenu in the desert, after the sin of the Golden Calf. 
  2. The walls of Jerusalem were breached during the times of both the First and Second Temple. 
  3. The Tamid sacrifices were discontinued. 
  4. The Torah was burned, for the first time, by the Roman General Apostamus. (the only record we actually have of this is in the Talmud; the identity of the Apostamus has been debated for years. Whatever the case, his burning of the Torah opened the door to the desecration of thousands of Jewish Holy books over the cednturies.
  5. Placing a statue of a god in the Holy Temple by this same Apostamus. 
The Five events that occurred on the 9th of  Av are:
  1. The sin of the spies, which occurred after the exodus from Egypt. 
  2. The destruction of the First Temple. 
  3. The destruction of the Second Temple. 
  4. The plowing over of Jerusalem, and the subsequent prohibition of Jews from living there. 
  5. The fall of Beitar, marking the end of Jewish Sovereignty in the Land for 2000 years. 

Seemingly,  the Tammuz events led directly to the events of Av, except for the first one. The Sin of the Golden Calf, and the consequent breaking of the tablets didn’t lead to the Sin of the Spies. On the contrary; the Sin of the Golden Calf should have prevented the Sin of the Spies. Had we learned from our first sin, our history could have been very different.

It was not the entire nation that was guilty of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Firstly, the women did not participate. Secondly, neither did the Leviim. Finally, our sages tell us that it was the 'mixed multitude', which came out of Egypt with the Israelites, who were responsible for the creation of the Calf. The majority of the nation actually stood aside, not knowing exactly what to do. Even the leaders - Aaron, Miriam, Nachshon, Yehoshua and Calev -  did not even bother to speak out against it. Nobody did. Therein lay the sin. ‘
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ said Edmund Burke

When Moshe Rabbenu descended from the Mountain and realized what was going on, his anger was such that he threw down the tablets with such fury that the stones shattered into pieces. His rage was so great that he wanted G-d to destroy the whole nation. "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written. (Exodus 32:32) It was G-d who refused to kill them all.

3000 people were put to death by the Leviim and several 1000s more died in the epidemic which followed. Ultimately Bnei Yisrael were forgiven for their sin on the tenth of Tishrei, Yom Kippur, which is why our sages describe the day as a joyful and festive holiday.

The Sin of the Spies, on the other hand, involved each and every male of the nation (again, the women did not participate and were therefore granted the privilege of entering the Land), not just the mixed multitude, and including the Leviim.
However, unlike the Golden Calf episode, where everyone kept silent,  two people spoke up to the people to try to convince them of their mistake; Calev and Yehoshua. But the people didn’t listen.

Despite all the miracles that had happened in Egypt, despite all the wonders the Children of Israel had witnessed in the desert, they still lacked the belief and trust in G-d to enter the Land. Even though G‑d had forgiven them for their great sin of the Golden Calf, they still were not sure enough to fight for the Land which He had promised them, and fulfill the mitzvot there.

The first step of Israel's redemption was coming out of Egypt; the second step was receiving the Torah. The third and final step was to bring us into the Land. 

Yet, instead of learning from the Sin of the Golden Calf how precious we are to G-d, instead of understanding that G-d means what He says and says what He means (to paraphrase Rav Suess), we again turned our backs on His words.
At the Sin of the Spies, it was G-d who wanted to destroy the nation on the spot and make a new nation from Moshe. This time however, it was Moshe who refused, telling G-d that would be a desecration of His Name. The nations of the world, said Moshe, would claim that G-d wasn’t omnipotent after all, and that He couldn’t conquer the Land, and, therefore, He destroyed His people in the desert.

Over the next 38 years, 600,000 men died in the desert because of the Sin of the Spies (which is the same number of Jews who lived in the Land on  May 14, 1948). A whole generation died and a new one had to arise before the Land could be taken.

But Bnei Israel were never forgiven for their sin, for their doubt in G-d’s word, for their rejection of the Land. The Temples were destroyed, the Land was forsaken, and in later history, the first crusade was declared, the expulsion of the Jewish Communities from both England and Spain commenced on this day, the first of the transports from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp started on this day, and in our very modern times, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 occurred on Tisha B’av, and of course, the destruction of Gush Katif began, leading, not only to exile and homelessness of 10,000 people,  but to physical danger to over a quarter of a million people and counting here in the south of the Land.

In the Sin of the Golden Calf we rejected the Torah, but G-d forgave us.
In the Sin of the Spies, we rejected the Land, and for that we are still suffering.

I recently read a parable about a beautiful princess looking for a husband. She would watch the prospective suitor for a few days, unbeknownst to him. Did he speak politely to the servants? Did he act honorably towards the people in the market? Was he honest in his dealings? If all was affirmative, she would go to meet him in her finest clothes and jewels. If his actions did not meet with her approval, she would meet him dressed in rags and looking like an old hag, so that he would not want to marry her and he would reject her. In the parable, the princess is the Land of Israel, the suitor is the People of Israel.

When we rejected the Torah, we were forgiven, because the Torah is everywhere, in all our actions. We can just reach out and take it, and love it and follow it and it is ours. Even in a barren desert.

But the rejection of the Land has caused suffering for 3300 years.

There are many reasons not to live in Israel:

It's hard to fine a job. Learning a new language is very difficult. It’s too hot and dusty. The political situation is terrible. Lousy neighbors. There are no dividers in the supermarkets, and there's no Starbucks.
Conquering and living in the Land requires commitment and sacrifice, perseverance and Love.

What we must understand is that when we reject the Land, it is really the Land that is rejecting us – she has dressed herself in rags, and that is what we see. Why is she rejecting us? Perhaps we are not acting honorably or honestly. Perhaps we are running after false gods. Perhaps we are indulging in Lashon Harah, and almost certainly we are practicing too much Sinat Chinam - baseless hatred -  towards our people. And this time round, the women are as guilty as the men.

But the Land, in the words of Yehoshua bin Nun, is a very very good land.

To those reading this who have not yet made the commitment to live in the Land, what's keeping you? How many miracles does it take to convince you that this is where you need to be?

And to those who are living here, kol hakavod, but it's not the end of the story.

Hence, my plan.

We must behave accordingly. We must act honorably and honestly. We must be upright in our actions, just in all our dealings, and probably most important of all, we must practice Ahavat Chinam - baseless love; to love, not only G-d with all our hearts and all our souls and all our might, but to love our fellow Jews, and to show that love in our daily actions.

And if we can do that, then surely the Temple will soon be rebuilt, and hasten the days of the Mashiach, as the prophet Zechariah says:

כה אמר ה, ה צבאות, צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה, ולמועדים טובים, והאמת והשלום אהבו.

"Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall become times of joy and gladness, and happy times to the house of Yehuda; therefore love the truth and peace." (Zechariah 8:19)

We have already witnessed uncountable miracles here in our Land. Perhaps if we all work just a little harder, we can be witnesses to the greatest of miracles. Speedily, and in our time.

Post a Comment