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A Tale of Two Tragedies

Here in the Diaspora this week, we consider the Sin of the Spies in Parashat Sh’lach (Num.13:1-15:41), when 12 of Israel’s finest are sent on a reconnaissance mission to the Promised Land. Only Caleb and Joshua gave a positive report while the other ten offered an “evil report”

Why was the report considered “evil”?

Because, in the minds of the ten Spies, they only saw a land ripe with insurmountable challenges. God brought them out of bondage, destroyed Egypt with Ten Plagues, and Split the Sea, but somehow they failed to believe His promise that the Land was literally theirs for the taking. They fell prey to their own imagination. This was tantamount to Idolatry—rejecting HaShem's words and replacing them with an illusion. In fact, the Sages characterize the Sin of the Spies as being worse than the Sin of the Golden Calf. National hysteria ensued on Tish B’Av (9th of Av). The Talmud (Sotah 34b) teaches us that the women of Israel chose to reject the evil report and maintained their faith in HaShem.

Tish B'Av (9th of Av) became a day of tragedy for the Jewish People:

  1. The destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

  2. The destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

  3. The Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans with thousands of Jews dying.

  4. The expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492.

  5. World War I began on this date in 1914. The events of that war led to the Holocaust

Parashat Shlach wraps up with the command for Jewish men to wear tzit-tzit, a garment with specially knotted fringes on each corner. The parsha then concludes with a reminder to keep the commandments of God, “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” The latter verse, as well as the mitzvah of the tzit-tzit serves as a connecting thread to Parashat Korach (Num.16:1–18:32) read this week, in eretz Israel. It recounts another tragedy: Korach falsely accused Moses of taking power for himself. Korach was attempting to do that very thing. In today's parlance, he was "projecting" his own imaginings onto Moses.

Korach's rejection of God’s leadership stemmed from the laughable illusion that he had a better idea than God. As with the Spies, this state of mind can be likened to Idolatry. Had Korach and his followers taken control, the nation would have vanished from the face of the earth but the Creator authenticates Moses position by making good on Moses' warning that those who chose Korach would be swallowed by the earth. With frightening immediacy the ground opened, sucking in Korach, his followers, along with everything they owned! Thus the punishment fit the crime.

Parsha Korach teaches us to reject those who crave power. True leaders never harbor any illusions about themselves, nor do they need mobs to take power. And the mitzvah of the tzit-tzit is a daily reminder that a Torah observant life will guard from being led astray by illusions. A fully observant Jewish presence in eretz Israel will, B’esrat HaShem, negate the effects of the 9th of Av. Israel will be seen as God’s true priesthood living lives of holiness so that, those with eyes to see, will take hold of the tzit-tzit of a Jewish man, and ask them to,"Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. And it will be no illusion.

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