Saturday, July 02, 2022

At this time of the year, as my children complete yet another year of school, I gasp and have to acknowledge that time flies! I also tend to become reflective and think about what I have achieved during this past year and what I haven’t. No one is perfect and I am no exception, so I must acknowledge that I have my share of mistakes and missed opportunities. How I deal with falling short of the mark is something I grapple with, not only in counseling others as a chaplain (or otherwise), but on a personal level as well.

As I was pondering this, my focus shifted to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Shelach, which yielded an observation that I had not thought of before, and that sheds light on a possible viable strategy in this area.

Shelach opens with leaders of the 12 tribes being dispatched to scout out the land of Israel and report back to the people on what they had seen. While a full examination of that episode is far beyond the purview of this column, I will focus on specific aspects for the purpose of developing my insight. All of the spies saw very negative and troubling sights; While two of them, Joshua and Caleb, encouraged the people not to lose faith and remain with the plan to enter and conquer the land of Israel, the other 10 spies promoted the idea that, in light of what they saw, that would be an impossible task. As recorded in Numbers 14:1: “The entire assembly raised up and issued its voice: the people wept that night.” Hashem subsequently declares that this generation will perish in the desert and it will be the next generation which will enter the land of Israel. The date of this seminal episode, as recorded in Babylonian Talmud Taanis 29a, was Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av. Rashi, the eminent commentator, records a sobering insight on this episode in his comments to Psalm 106, verse 27 “V’amar Hakadosh Barouch Hoo ham bachoo al chinam v’Ani akaveh lahem bechiah l’doros” “And Hashem said they cried over nothing, I will enact for them crying {on this date} for generations.” Rashi states that Hashem thus established that the Ninth of Av would be a day of tragedy for the Jewish people in future generations, characterized by events that will yield real reason for tears. Indeed, many tragedies have occurred on that date, including the destruction of each Beis Hamikdash.

If one reads chapter 14 in Bamidbar (Numbers), we see Hashem is clearly displeased by the lack of faith of the nascent Jewish nation, which has reached its zenith following the report of these tribal leaders, and their punishment at that time is a clear result of their actions. But what message lies in the establishment of this date, for so many generations to come, to be the time for calamity to strike?

Let us look carefully at what Rashi said “they cried for nothing.” Was the crying not the result of listening to the negative report; How is that for “nothing”? Maybe the heart of the problem was that those involved became so caught up in the signs of trouble that they lost faith in Hashem’s promise that they would enter and conquer the land. Even when Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people that Hashem could and would fulfill His promise, the crying mob was ready to pelt them with stones! (Numbers 14: 8-10). This generation had left Egypt and seen Hashem’s salvation and miracles time and time again, yet had now reached the point of desperation and not trusting in Hashem.

Perhaps this answers what Rashi articulated in his commentary: Hashem is saying if you reach the point of thinking I will not keep my promises and can’t help you, then you have a completely inaccurate perspective, and your warped conclusion indeed equals nothing. Perhaps this is why Hashem designated this date to be such an inauspicious one; to implant the fundamental notion that, even in the most difficult of circumstances, we must never reach the point of thinking Hashem has utterly rejected us.

All emotions are valid including negative ones; certainly there may be endless reasons why one is sad, upset, angry, depressed and the like. Those who are going through them, like anyone else, deserve to be heard and helped. But just as one has to push the brakes on a car lest it slide out of control, one needs to have a sense of proportion and not arrive at “tunnel vision.” While we all suffer personal (and at times national) trials and tribulations, we must not allow ourselves to dwell in despair and think a situation is absolutely hopeless. Hashem is there, wanting us to reach out to Him and waiting to help us.

Rabbi David Blum provides pastoral care throughout New Jersey as part of the Rabbi Chaim Yosef Furst Chaplaincy Program, which is conducted via Congregation Ohav Emeth of Highland Park, and the Chaplaincy Program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest. He resides with his family in Highland Park, and may be contacted at [email protected]

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