DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’AV — “Back to Normal?”


This Wednesday night through Thursday will be Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the disastrous month of Av.  This full-day fast is similar to Shiva.   We sit on low chairs, refrain from socializing, and wear only non-leather footwear.  This time is spent in contemplation of all the calamities that have befallen our People on Tisha B’Av, including the burning of both Temples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Pogroms and the beginning of World War I.  The fast begins Wednesday  at sundown, and ends on Thursday at dusk, (25-72 minutes after sunset, depending upon local custom. To find sunrise and sunset times for your community click here.)

For a brief listing of infamous events that took place on Tisha B’Av throughout history, click here.

For more information on the observance of Tisha B’av and the days leading up to it, click here and here.


“Back to Normal?”

It was almost time for Moses to die. He gathered the nation together for his final words of encouragement and reprimand.  Soon he would no longer be around to give them guidance.  He had many things to tell them.

One of the things Moses chose to discuss was the sin of the Spies.  (See “What Was Moses’ Last Name?” and “Fringe Benefits”.) Twelve spies had been sent to scout out the Land of Canaan (Israel) and report back to Moses.  Ten men brought back a negative report.  Two men, Joshua and Caleb, brought back a positive report.  The Nation of Israel believed the majority, and rejected the Land.  As a result, because they believed the slander about the Land, the Israelites had to wander through the desert for forty years, until all the adults of that first generation had died.  (That event, which occurred on Tisha B’Av, set the stage for multiple tragedies that have befallen our people on Tisha B’Av.  To this day, we continue to suffer and mourn over the results of that terrible event.)

Moses reviewed the events of that fateful mission:

“All of you then approached me and said, ‘Send men ahead of us to explore the Land.  Let them bring back a report about the way ahead of us and the cities that we shall encounter”’ (Deuteronomy, 1:22)


Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin wonders how the Israelites could have made this request.  After all, they were living a miraculous existence.  Manna fell daily from Heaven, and they drank water from a well that followed them wherever they went.  A pillar of fire led them by day and a pillar of fire by night.  G-d’s Divine Presence hovered over the Tabernacle.

What were these people thinking?  Did they really think that they needed to check out the land that G-d had promised them?  They saw the Ten Plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army.  They knew how G-d deals with the enemies of Israel.  What were they worried about?

Moses, too, was surprised:

“Yet, in this matter, you do not have faith in … your G-d, Who goes before you in fire by night and in cloud by day to show you the path to follow, just like a scout finding you a place to camp.  (verses 32-33)

What led the people to doubt that G-d would continue to protect them from all harm?  Actually, answers Rabbi Sorotzkin, it was all because of a prophecy.

Eldad and Meidad uttered a disquieting prophecy. (Numbers, 11:26-29)  They predicted that Moses was going to die, and that Joshua was going to lead them into the Land.  Moses never contradicted that prophecy; in fact, at one point, he appeared to be confirming it:

“Then I said to you… ‘G-d has placed the Land before you; go up and take possession…‘ “(Deuteronomy, 1:20-21)

Moses was telling THEM that THEY should enter the Land; he implied that he was not going.

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!”

The people reasoned that without Moses at the helm, life would return to its non-miraculous, natural state.  Moses wouldn’t be there to split the sea.  He wouldn’t be around to hit rocks to produce water or to hold up his staff, allowing Israel to overpower the Amalekites.

After Moses’ death, the “honeymoon would be over.”  People would have to plant and harvest.  They’d have to actually work for a living!

And they would have to fight real wars against powerful enemies.  They would have to sharpen their swords, spears, and their battle strategies.  As such, they needed to know more about the Land.

Without Moses to lead a supernatural war against their enemies, it was essential that the people know exactly what they were up against.

This, explains Rabbi Sorotzkin, is why the people wanted to spend spies into the Land.

So what was the problem?  If the people assumed that life would be different after Moses, THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!!

The Manna, in fact, stopped falling when the nation entered the Land.  Life did revert to more of a natural state.  So what did they do wrong?????

It appears to me that the problem was not so much with their desire for a scouting expedition; that may have been a legitimate request.  The problem was what they did with the information that the scouts brought back.  Once they heard that the Canaanites were a force to be reckoned with, they gave up on the whole plan.  They decided not to go.

It was in reference to this refusal that Moses stated, “Yet, in this matter, you do not have faith in … your G-d.”

It might have been ok to set up an expedition if it was for the right reason.  But, as Rabbi Sorotzkin points out, this expedition was also a rejection of Joshua’s leadership.  HE would be the new general.  Let HIM decide how to check out the enemy.


Life is not always easy.  In fact, it’s usually quite challenging.  No, Manna doesn’t fall from Heaven anymore; we have to go earn our keep.  But we dare not give up.  We must go about our daily lives with trust in G-d.  Yes, we should check out our enemies.  Yes, we should investigate the references of that new job applicant.  We should have health insurance.  We don’t rely on miracles.

On the other hand, we are supposed to keep in mind that G-d is very much involved in our lives.  Moses told Aaron to place jar of Manna in the Tabernacle for all to see.  It was to serve as a reminder that G-d is just as much a part of our livelihood today as He was when he deposited it on our doorsteps.

Nature is G-d’s way of doing His miracles anonymously.  It is G-d Who keeps us healthy when we eat right.  It is G-d Who gets us that job interview when we send out resumes and helps us do well on our well-prepared-for interview and land the job.  Who do you think won the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War for the Israelis?!!


Next Thursday is Tisha B’Av. We’ve lost two Temples.  They were built by men and destroyed by men.  For the Third Temple, G-d is going back into Miracle Mode; He’s going to build it Himself, so that no man can destroy it.

Miracles can happen very quickly; the building could easily be up by Thursday.  Let’s not make the same mistake as the Generation of the Desert did.

Ya gotta believe!

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 24, 2009 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  

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