According to the tradition, one of the tragedies that befell the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av was the banishment of the Children of Israel to the desert for forty years. This exile was the outcome of the negative report of the spies and the people’s subsequent lack of faith and narrow vision.
Like the generation of the desert, our generation was also taken out of the abyss and given a new life in the Land of Israel. We face similar challenges to those which confronted that generation. As we watch the promise of peace and “the quiet life” being wrenched once more from our grasp, the words of the spies come back to haunt us: “It is a land that swallows up its inhabitants.” (Numbers 13:32)
These words reverberate in our hearts with the sound of an inevitable truth. In battling this sense of despair, our sole recourse is to embrace the words of Joshua and Caleb, the two steadfast members of the mission that spied out the land of Israel:
“The land which we passed through to spy it out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land… the Lord is with us, fear them not.” – Numbers 14:7-10
Only profound faith and a sense of higher purpose can sustain us through the impossible situation that we face.
One of the great truths of the spiritual life is that God only gives us what we want after we have given up wanting it. So it is today, at the moment when the people of Israel want nothing more than to be like every other nation, we are being forced by circumstances to be more than ourselves.
For the past three thousand five hundred years, God and Israel have been bound together in a covenantal relationship. Our relationship has gone through many incarnations during that time. We have been priests in the Temple, outcasts in exile, and now pioneers and soldiers once more in our own land.
Our return home has been a process of continual growth and development. After years in the wilderness, we have had to learn about ourselves anew. We have discovered terrible weaknesses and glaring imperfections, but also great courage and tremendous strength. We have experienced moments of exultation and moments of lamentation – encounters on the mountaintop as well as in the vale of tears. If we want to become true Divine instruments, we need to address our weaknesses and purify our imperfections. Our spiritual journey is still far from complete.
There is a famous story that is told about Rabbi Akiva:
Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva were going up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mount Scopus they tore their clothes. Approaching the Temple Mount, they saw a fox run out of the area of the Holy of Holies. As they began to weep, Rabbi Akiva laughed. “Why are you laughing?” they asked. “Why are you crying?” he retorted. They responded, “When foxes run out of the place where only the high priest could enter on Yom Kippur, shouldn’t we cry?”
“That’s why I laughed,” he answered, “I know two prophecies. The first of the prophet Michah, saying ‘Because of you, Zion will be a plowed field, Jerusalem a ruin, and the Temple Mount a forest.’ The second, of Zachariah, says: ‘Old men and women will yet rejoice in the street of Jerusalem.’ Until I saw the first prophecy fulfilled I feared the second would never happen. Now that I have seen the first prophecy come true, I the know the second one will also.”
The others answered: “Akiva, you comforted us! Akiva you comforted us!”
As we enter into the Shabbatot of Consolation that follow the fast of Tisha B’Av, we who have merited to witness both the exile and the return, need to have faith that Israel will find the courage and wisdom to get through the many difficulties she faces. Like Rabbi Akiva, we need to hold on to the hope that the seeds of redemption can sprout forth from the ruins of confrontation and battle. And we need to pray that the Divine light will shine ever more brightly on Zion, revealing the path forward for our people and nation.
Copyright © 2014 by Yoel Glick
photo by Zonsondergang