|We begin the Torah’s final book this week, and it begins by citing the places the Jews traveled in the desert since leaving Egypt. Moses uses the opportunity to give veiled words of soft rebuke to the people. The following verse, relating the incident of the spies, is an example, but it’s not clear exactly how.And all of you approached me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come.” (1:22)How is this rebuke? Moses seems merely to telling the story that is the preface to the incident of the spies. Rashi contrasts the wording in the verse above with a later verse (Deut. 5:20-21) describing the peoples’ approaching Moses before receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. When they came forth, with the proposal to send spies on a reconnaissance mission (before conquering Israel), it was in a frenzied fashion, with younger people pushing aside the elders. In contrast, at Mount Sinai, they approached in a calm and organized way, with the younger generation respecting their elders. How can we understand the contrast between the tumult created before the spies’ incident as opposed to the calm and respectful conduct at Sinai as words of rebuke?The Jewish nation need elders. Although young people have the enthusiasm, idealism, and energy to make things happen, their lack of life experience, along with the tendency to get excited or passionate about something without realizing the consequences, can work to their detriment. Elders are not necessarily old people, but rather learned, knowledgeable people of wisdom. It is sad indeed when teenagers see their parents attempting to dress and talk like them, and act as if they are contemporaries. When the prophet Isaiah gives the dismal prophecy about the siege of Jerusalem, the worst of the 18 curses mentioned is that “the young ones will rule over the elders.”Let us now contrast the later incident (sending the spies) where the young people were pushing the elders as opposed to the earlierincident (at Mt. Sinai), when those same people came in an organized and respectful fashion. This contrast is noted by Rav Shlomo Ephraim Shlomo Luntschitz (1550-1619), in his monumental work, Kli Yakar..He explains that the difference between the two gatherings approaching Moses is part of Moses’ rebuke to the people. If the young people were so eager when it came to conquer and take possession of the Land, why were they not equally as excited to come forward when it came time to accepting the Torah? If the excitement of youth pushed respect aside (at the spies’ incident), why didn’t the same thing happen at Mount Sinai? This inconsistency indicates that the younger crowd placed greater significance in the physical (taking possession of the Land) rather than the spiritual (accepting the Torah).Moses’ recalled this inconsistency in his rebuke because it demonstrates a lack of understanding about what makes the Jewish people unique. G-d chose us as His nation because we were the ones, as a nation, who were willing to accept the Torah and be a moral beacon for the rest of the world. The Land of Israel is part of the package because it is the place where we are meant to set up a society that will be a light for the nations. Our ability to be a model for the rest of the world begins with our understanding that the Torah is our instruction book and the Land of Israel is the best place to carry out those instructions. Their misplaced enthusiasm, placing the Land before the Torah, is not only a lesson for all generations, it’s also sometimes, unfortunately, a description of various aspects of Jewish life in our own times. I once heard the following example from a rabbi of a large congregation; unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident or something unique to his congregation.After services, the congregation goes into the social hall for a luscious kiddush, with everything from Kosher Sushi to kugel, from Cholent to chopped liver. There’s pushing and shoving, and much enthusiasm, especially from the younger crowd, to get to the tables laden with food. However, when it comes time to attending services in shul, the younger crowd has no problem giving the front part of the shul to the older people and being ‘magnanimous’ by sitting or even standing in back. They are even willing to stand in the hallway, outside of the sanctuary, to help make room for those who want to be inside. Where’s is the enthusiasm, the pushing and shoving to get to shul? Kiddush provides an important social, and gastronomical, feature to Judaism but it’s clearly not as important as the prayer service. There something wrong when people are willing to easily give in to matters of spirituality but push and shove when it comes to physical satiation.On one hand, Moses was very impressed with the people’s ability to be calm and gracious, and let one another go first at the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, yet when it came to taking possession of the land, there was a minor riot. Their misdirected enthusiasm was the subject of Moses’ reprimand.This Sunday is the fast of Tisha B’Av ;it is the only sad day in the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the day of the destruction of the first and second Temples. After explaining Moses’ rebuke, Kli Yakar concludes that the first seed to cause our long and bitter exile was connected to incidents relating to the sending of the spies. This misplaced eagerness, rather than facilitating taking possession of the land of Israel, was the catalyst causing the death of that generation as well as delaying their offspring from entering Israel for 40 years. In classical Jewish literature, the incident of the spies is inexorably connected to the destruction of the Temple. Consequently, one of the things for which we mourn on Tisha B’Av is the misplaced enthusiasm of our ancestors thousands of years ago.Tisha B’Av is a time when we sit on the ground to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as the fragile situation of our exile. When we consider the rise of anti-Semitism as well as Jewish students feeling unsafe on campuses throughout American and Europe, we don’t have to look too far to realize how tenuous our situation is. At the conclusion of Shabbat tomorrow night, we will read Lamentations (Eichah), written by the prophet Jeremiah.Remember G-d what has happened to us, look and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our houses to foreigners. (Eichah/Lamentations 5:1-2)We need to unite not just in communal mourning but in prayer and resolve to identify what really matters to us as a people and where my priorities as an individual are. Let’s make the most of this Tisha B’Av by thinking of some way, even one way, for us to align our priorities with those of our ancestors, who managed to live their life as Jews throughout Crusades, Cossacks, pogroms, and a Holocaust. If they found guidance and inspiration through those hard times, and were able to maintain their Jewish connection, we should be able to do the same in these relatively peaceful times. Good Shabbos
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