Devarim – Merciful Consequences
“Because of you God has rebuked me as well, saying that you too will not come there.” (Deuteronomy 1:37)
Moses was speaking of the nation’s reaction to the report of the spies. The people had despaired, and the consequence of that despair was forty years of wandering in the desert. Nobody, other than Joshua and Caleb, survived from the adults of that generation. They all passed on during those forty years. Moses too, would not survive the forty years, and here he is laying the blame upon the nation.
As far as we know Moses and Aaron lost the privilege of entering the promised land when Moses struck the rock. The Torah explicitly states that, “Hashem said to Moses and Aaron, since you had no faith in Me, to sanctify Me in the midst of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this people into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)
So which one is it? The cause of Moses being barred from entering the land seems to be a matter of dispute between God and Moses. God pinned it upon Moses’ failure to follow His instructions to speak to the rock, and Moses here is pinning it upon the episode of the spies and the people’s despairing reaction.
The sages say that the episode of the spies was a watershed moment for the nation of Israel. Moses was to bring the people into the land. Under his leadership the Temple would have been built, and a Temple built by Moses would have been eternal, lasting forever. The people’s loss of faith upon the report of the spies, however, set a problematic trend. It illustrated, nay, it instigated, a pattern wherein the people would succumb to poor judgement and failure to observe their commitments to God. Actions are followed by consequences. This is inescapable. The people would have to bear the consequences of their failings.
A Temple built under Moses’ leadership would be untouchable. It could not be destroyed. The burden of the consequences would perforce fall upon the people themselves. The nation would not survive the consequences of their failings if those consequences would fall upon them.
Our sages say, and this is cited by the commentaries Seforno and Or HaChaim, that the spies returned on the eve of 9 Av. The people listened to their report and cried on that night. ‘You are crying tonight for no reason!’ God said. ‘I will give you a reason to cry this night for all generations.’ Both the first and second Temples were destroyed on that day of the year, establishing the ninth day of Av as a day of mourning for all future generations.
This appears to be a harsh response to the crying of the people, but it is actually God’s mercy in play. Noting the trend set by the people’s despair, and seeing that future failings would bring worse consequences, God barred Moses from entering the land. The Temple would not be built by Moses and would therefore not be an eternal structure. When the people would fail in their calling – and it was clear that they would – consequences must follow. Those consequences would bear down upon the Temples and spare the people. The destruction would be relegated primarily to wood and stones.
It was this Moses was referring to when he stated that God had ‘rebuked’ him as a result of the spies, and he would not be allowed to enter the promised land. God waited until Moses slipped in order to penalize him, but the intent that Moses would not enter the land was there long before.
It is this concept, the idea that the destruction is limited to the Temple structure, that gives Tisha B’Av a silver lining. It is well known that the custom is not to sit on chairs during 9 Av. Instead we sit on the ground or on low chairs, in mourning. However, from mid-day on 9 Av we can again sit on chairs and the rules of mourning are relaxed. Although it is precisely the latter part of the day during which the Temple burned, it became evident at that time that ‘God’s wrath’ was taken upon the structure of the Temple and the people were spared.