DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’AV — “Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy”

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ swan song. His final legacy to the nation he had loved and served for 40+ years is a long sermon. Moses gathered the people together on the first day of Shevat in the 40th year after the Exodus from Egypt. He was going to die about a month later, and he now had to do something he had postponed for many years. The time had come to reprimand them for their many shortcomings over the years. Moses wanted to leave them with words of constructive criticism that would hopefully guide them in the future.

One of the items on his agenda was to remind them why we will be fasting this Saturday night and Sunday:

Moses spoke to them about the incident of the 12 spies, 40 years before. (See “Ten Times One Equals Infinity” and “What Was Moses’ Last Name?”) The spies had returned from scouting out the Land of Canaan, and advised the people that G-d would not be able to deliver on His promise to give them the Land. “You did not wish to go up, and you rebelled against the word of G-d. You slandered in your tents and said, ‘It is in G-d’s hatred for us that He took us out of Egypt, in order to turn us over to the Amorites to destroy us!’…I said to you… ‘Do not fear them. G-d …will do battle for you, like He did for you in Egypt…In the desert you have seen that G-d has carried you as a father carries his child…’ Yet, you didn’t believe in G-d.” (Deuteronomy, 1:26-27, 29-32)

That night 40 years previously, the Children of Israel had cried. They went back to their tents and cried because they didn’t trust G-d’s commitment and ability to deliver them into the Land. That night, they made a mistake. “Tonight,” said G-d, “you have cried for no reason. In the future, on this night, you will have reason to cry.” That night was Tisha B’Av.


True to His promise, G-d, in His sometimes-difficult-to-understand wisdom, allowed us to cry on Tisha B’Av. He decreed on Tisha B’Av that the generation of adults that had left Egypt would die in the desert and never see the Land of Israel. He allowed the Babylonians to destroy the first Temple on Tisha B’Av. The Romans destroyed the second Temple on Tisha B’Av, leading to over two million Jewish deaths from war, famine, and disease. On Tisha B’Av, 1492, G-d allowed the Spanish Inquisition to expel the Jews from Spain. He allowed the Jews of England to be expelled in 1290. The First World War, leading to over 100,000 Jewish deaths on all sides of the conflict, began on Tisha B’Av. The deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began on Tisha B’Av.

Yes, Tisha B’Av has truly become a time for us to cry. Much like a mourner during Shiva, we will sit on the floor without shoes and pray to G-d that he put an end to our sorrow. We will fast and we will cry, and we will try to comprehend what has happened to our People. And we will try to figure out how to bring the Final Redemption and the rebuilding of G-d’s House in Jerusalem.


I had a very interesting experience this week. I had the pleasure of attending the Bris of my triplet great-nephews. It was a beautiful Simcha, followed by a sumptuous feast. You may recall that in last week’s Torah Talk, I mentioned that the prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av doesn’t apply at a Bris.

It was a strange inconsistency. On the one hand, we are in mourning for the Temple. On the other hand, we are having a party! Where is our concern for our people? Aren’t we supposed to remember our brethren who were burned at the stake in Spain?! Aren’t we supposed to lament the victims of the Holocaust and the Intifada?! How can we cry to G-d to rescue us from our anguish when we’re eating prime rib and parve ice cream?!

Part of the answer, I believe, was given by one of the rabbis who spoke at the Bris. Our sages tell us that G-d is very cognizant of the pain and the tears of His People. When G-d hears the cries of a baby at his Bris, He sees the dedication of His People in fulfilling the Mitzvahs of the Torah. He is filled with compassion for us. When we show that we are willing to do difficult things to serve Him, it is the beginning of reconciliation between us and our Father in Heaven. When we show G-d that pain for a good cause is a worthwhile endeavor, we endear ourselves to Him. That is certainly a cause for celebration.

Another thought. The reason that G-d declared this time of year as a time to cry is that on that first Tisha B’Av, the Israelites had cried bitterly without a valid reason. They had no faith in G-d, and no sense of perspective. They saw a challenging situation, and they panicked. They had no hope for the future.

Numerous times throughout the ages, things have looked hopeless. With the destruction of our Temple and our exile from our Homeland, how could we have hoped to survive? When the Jews were kicked out of Spain after centuries of religious freedom and equality, what type of future could they have expected? As the trains rolled into Auschwitz, could there have been any thoughts of positive things to look forward to?

Yet, we have managed, with G-d’s help, to maintain perspective. At our weekday meals, we recite Psalm 157 (“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept, as we remembered Zion...”) At Sabbath and festive meals, however, we recall Zion with Psalm 126 (…when G-d will return the captives of Zion…our mouth will be filled with laughter…he who goes forth with tears will return in exultation.”) While we cry over our exile, we look with confidence toward times of joy in the future.

There were some Jews who, before, during, and even after the War, chose not to have children. They couldn’t see bringing Jewish children into a world that didn’t want them. (This is not a new concept. Amram, the leader of Egyptian Jewry, divorced his wife when the Egyptians started killing Jewish boys. His daughter told him, “Your decree is worse than the Pharaoh’s! He is temporarily trying to kill the boys. But you will destroy us all!” Amram kissed his daughter, remarried Yocheved, and gave us Moses, the savior of Israel.)

The majority of the survivors built new lives and new families in America, Israel, and elsewhere. They looked to the future with confidence in a brighter tomorrow.

Every new Jewish child is another nail in Hitler’s coffin. Every new Torah observant Jew is a cause to celebrate the eternal nature of our nation and G-d’s Torah. The tears of children at their Bris are tears of momentary discomfort. We need to remember that the tears of anguish of our People are momentary as well.

As we sit on the floor this Tisha B’Av, mourning and fasting, let us recall this perspective. The tears are momentary. May we celebrate next Tisha B’Av with tears of joy in the third Temple in rebuilt Jerusalem.

Have a Good Shabbos, and a meaningful fast.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives

“Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits” (2011)

… I have a question.  Why is Moses beating around the bush?!  What’s with the hinting?  Why doesn’t the Torah describe Moses coming out with a shotguns-blazing, Fire-and-Brimstone reprimand?   Why doesn’t he say, “Listen Israel, your behavior has been horrendous!   You complained about the lack of food.  You worshipped Baal Pe’or.  You displayed a lack of faith at the Red Sea.  You listened to the lies of the spies.  You complained about the Manna and supported Korach’s rebellion.  You turned all that gold into a Golden Calf.  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!!!!!” …

Read more.


“Back to Normal?” (2009) 

…The people were concerned.  Sure, they had seen plenty of miracles.  But that was when Moses was around.  What would happen “post-Moses?”  Would the miracles still flow like the waters of the traveling well? Would Heavenly Bread still fall in front of their tents?  Would those pillars of fire and cloud still lead them?

Joshua was a fine student.  He was Moses’ best protégé.  However, to paraphrase  Senator Bentson:  “We served under Moses.  We know Moses.  He is a prophet of G-d.  Joshua, you’re no Moses!”…

Read more.


“Wearable Clothes for Terrible Times” (2007)

… It must seem strange to envision people celebrating the Sabbath in a less-than-“Sabbatical” mode of dress.  Can you imagine sitting in Shul Friday night next to a carpenter in his overalls and the Roto-Rooter guy in his galoshes?

Actually, most people don’t follow that custom.  The Chofetz Chaim writes that the prevalent custom is that of the city ofVilnawhere they permitted the donning of Shabbos clothes on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av …

One may be tempted to ask – Isn’t this rather superficial?  What difference does it make?  Why so much emphasis on what you’re wearing?  If you want to dress for Shabbos, dress for Shabbos!  If you want to wear weekday clothes, wear weekday clothes!  What’s the big deal?  And, as long as we’re on the topic, why don’t you rejoin the human race and take a bath?!!…

Read more.


 “Torah Talk” (2006)

“Hey, how’d he do that?”

“How’d WHO do WHAT?”

“Didn’t you hear that speech?”

“Yes, of course, it was very inspiring.  But he is, after all, a great man.  So why are you surprised?”

Because he doesn’t know how to do that!!!”

It all started almost 120 years before.  The Talmud (Shemos Rabbah,1:26) describes how Baby Moses upset his adopted grandfather…

Read more.


“Cry, O Zion …” (2005)

… “Cry, O Zion, and her cities, like a woman in the pains of childbirth, and like a young woman dressed in sackcloth, mourning for her young husband.”  (From the Tisha B’Av prayers.)

Imagine the agonizing physical pain of childbirth; what could be more painful?  Envision the emotional pain of a young widow; what could be more heartrending?…

Read more.


“Selective Memory” (2004)

… Did Moses give a fair description of the events as they actually occurred?  Based on Moses’ version, it seems like the people heard a positive report and rejected it.  In reality, as we see from actually reading about it, there was a spirited debate.  Ten spies said it was bad; two spies said it was good… why did Moses change the story?  Why did he imply that there had been no negative report at all? …

Read more.


 “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)”  (2002)

… In the book by that name, the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Eichah — how can it be that the city once filled with people has become like a widow…?”  (Lamentations, 1:1) Jeremiah stares with disbelief as he sees the once-great city ofJerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that theTemple has been destroyed and the royal house of  Israel has been led, in disgrace, into captivity.

Jeremiah’s wail continues to this day.  Throughout the world, Jews will sit and read Jeremiah’s words and cry over the pains of our exile…  “Eichah,” how could it be that the Jews of  Warsaw were deported to Treblinka beginning on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how can it be that a world tolerates the wanton murder of innocent people by a nation that sacrifices its own children for the “Mitzvah” of killing Jews?  “Eichah,” HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?!! …

Read more.


“Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy” (2001)

… I had a very interesting experience this week … the prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine … doesn’t apply at a Bris… It was a strange inconsistency. On the one hand, we are in mourning for theTemple. On the other hand, we are having a party! Where is our concern for our people? Aren’t we supposed to remember our brethren who were burned at the stake inSpain?! Aren’t we supposed to lament the victims of the Holocaust and the Intifada?! How can we cry to G-d to rescue us from our anguish when we’re eating prime rib and parve ice cream?! …

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on July 27, 2001 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  

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