8 Av, 5761
July 27-28, '01
I'm going to write this week's Parsha Views in a serious tone. I hope this will be the last time I have to do that.
The Torah Portion of Devarim is always read on the Shabbos immediately preceding the fast of the 9th of Av
(Tishah b'Av), which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, along with all tragedies of our exile. Tishah b'Av is the saddest day of the Jewish year because on it we recognize how far we have drifted from our Creator and the mission for which we were created. We feel so lonely. We know G-d is really so close, yet we are spiritually numb. We find it hard to pray. We know that G-d is listening, but we don't feel Him listening. Our emotions are creating a distance between G-d and us.
What is the source of our emotional distance from G-d?
The incident of the spies, retold in our parsha, offers us some clues. Moshe is recounting the past failings of the Jewish People, in order to sharpen our focus to what our potential truly is. Moshe reminds us how our ancestors approached him to send ahead spies into Eretz Yisroel to scout out the enemy. The spies returned and said: We have some good news and we have some bad news. The good news is that Eretz Yisroel looks great. The bad news is that we'll never get it, because the nations opposing us are too tough.
If that report wasn't bad enough, people began murmuring in their tents, editorializing: "In G-d's hatred of us He took us out of the land of Egypt, to give us over to the hands of the Emorites to wipe us out" (Deuteronomy 1:27). Pretty harsh words, especially speaking about the Creator of heaven and earth, Who grants us our very lives and provides us with all that we possess.
But these stinging words can only shock us for a moment-just until we recall how often we, when our own problems begin piling up, become angry at G-d in our hearts, feeling He must be out to get us. Why do we grow judgmental towards G-d so quickly?
Rashi opens our eyes. Jews were crying: "In G-d's hatred of us He took us out of the land of Egypt, to give us over to the hands of the Emorites to wipe us out." Why were Jews speculating about G-d's emotions? Rashi explains that from the wording of this complaint, we detect a subconscious bias.
G-d loves the Jewish People. But our ancestors didn't want to be close to G-d. They didn't like G-d so much, with all His rules and regulations. So they ended up projecting their own emotions on G-d, crying: "G-d hates us!" By doing so, they were betraying their own confused feelings. They were the ones who (so to speak) hated G-d. (Twentieth century psychodynamic thinking recognizes this process of projection as a defense mechanism. They must have been reading Rashi.)
Our feelings of distance from G-d are rooted in our own ambivalence towards Him. G-d's apparent distance from us and our world are not His doing, but rather our doing. Because we're not sure how close we really want to get to our Creator, we are creating our own obstacles for approaching our Creator. G-d only feels distant from us because we've allowed ourselves to feel distant from Him.
Tishah b'Av is the day on which we are challenged to confront these feelings and come to terms with them. The Shabbos before Tishah b'Av, when we read the story of the spies in Parshas Devarim is the day set aside to begin to examine these emotions. Will we recognize that the distance we feel from G-d originates in us? Will we realize that our exile is really self imposed? To the extent to which we decide to begin turning towards G-d, to that extent we will be able to feel G-d close to us and to begin rebuilding our relationship.
Tishah b'Av is destined to become a great holiday for the Jewish People. In the present, it commemorates our distance from G-d. In the future, it will celebrate our closeness to our Creator. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, our tongues with joy; the serious tones that have pervaded Tishah b'Av for millennia will be supplanted. Superceded.
I hope this is the last time I'll have to write Parsha Views in a serious tone. Laughter is very healthy for all of us. May we merit the opportunity to all laugh together soon.
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