וְלֹ֥א אֲבִיתֶ֖ם לַעֲלֹ֑ת וַתַּמְר֕וּ אֶת־פִּ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
Yet you refused to go up and flouted the command of the Eternal your God.
This Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Chazon – the “Sabbath of Vision” - which precedes Tisha B’Av, considered one of the most solemn days in the Jewish calendar. Shabbat Chazon is also sometimes referred to as the “Black Sabbath,” because it serves as a gateway to the remembrance of centuries of persecution and exile from the Land of Israel. In its biblical origins, during this period, the Romans had sealed off Jerusalem, the Temple had been destroyed, millions slaughtered, and the remaining inhabitants were starving and afflicted with disease. The Bar Kochba revolt will soon be quashed and the Romans will occupy Jerusalem, completing their dominance of the land they renamed as “Palestina” – a facetious reference to the perennial enemies of Israel, the Philistines.
Meanwhile, in our parashah for this Shabbat Chazon, Parashat D’varim, Moses is faced with a daunting task. Knowing he is about to die, he stands facing millions of Israelites, the majority of whom were born in the wilderness. They had not experienced slavery in Egypt, did not witness the miracles, and had not personally experienced the giving of Torah at Sinai. And now it is Moses’ job to impress upon these young Israelites the importance of their history in Egypt, their trials and victories in the desert, and their covenantal relationship with God. No small task.
Moses begins by speaking of the incident of the twelve scouts who were sent to explore the Promised Land and the wicked report they delivered. “You spoke slander in your tents,” he reminds them, “and stated that, ‘because God hated us, he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us’” (Deuteronomy 1:28). A midrash explains that there is a connection between Tisha B’Av and the incident of the scouts: The Rabbis speculate that the day the scouts return from the Promised Land was the 9th of Av and this incident would become just the first of many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on this day. It was when the Israelites cried and declared their desire to go back to Egypt that God proclaimed, “So you want to be sad and frightened? Fine! I’ll set a day aside so you can cry and be frightened to your heart’s content!”
According to that tradition, on Tisha B’Av we all become mourners, with all the traditional rituals of mourning being observed. But for others, at a time when the modern State of Israel stands as a well-established Jewish sovereign entity, with a unified Jerusalem standing as it’s very heart, the time of mourning comes to an end. If anything has ever returned from the dead, it is the State of Israel. And that resurrection is actually a prophetic fulfillment. As the Rabbis explain, according to the prophet Zacharia (8:19), on the 9th of Av, all will be put right one day. The Messiah will be born on that day and then, Tisha B’Av will become a joyful holiday, a day not of fasting but of feasting. We need to remember our history and learn from it. But mourning the past can sometimes become a barrier to moving forward and we Jews cannot afford to do that.
Rabbi Jordan Cohen