Thursday, 11 August, 2016 - 1:15 pm


A couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. While cutting the cake, the wife was moved at seeing her husband’s eyes fill with tears. She looked at him affectionately.

“I never knew you were so sentimental,” she whispered.

“No... No...” he said, choking back his tears, “That’s not it at all. Remember when your father found us in the barn and told me to either marry you or spend the next 50 years in jail?”

“Yes,” the wife replied. “I remember it like yesterday.”

“Well,” said the husband, “Today I would have been a free man.”

This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, relates the story of when the 12 spies returned from scouting the Land of Canaan and frightened the Israelites from entering it.

The spies said: We came to the land that you have sent us, and indeed, it flows with milk and honey; this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very great; we also saw giants there…. They spread an evil report about the land which they had scouted, telling "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes."

The Torah continues to tell us that as a result of this, The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night. All man complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert. Why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?”

The Talmud teaches that the spies, were sent on the 29th day of Sivan and returned after 40 days on the 8th of Av. The mass weeping of the entire nation thus occurred on the eve of the 9th of Av. G-d declared to them, “You wept in vain, I will establish this day as a time of weeping for all generations.”

Indeed, the 9th of Av has become a day of tears and grief for the terrible calamities that occurred on this day throughout our history. Jews have been crying on this day ever since.

Yet, G-d’s response seems unfair. Just because someone cries in vain, is it a reason to penalize them and make them cry in earnest over real pain for generations to come? The answer of course is that this was not a punishment. G-d was stating a prediction, and a natural one. He explained to the people the tragic ramifications of their behavior. Your crying tonight in vain is what will cause you to cry for generations. Why?

Why were the Jews weeping that night? Because they saw a hopeless and doomed future for themselves and their children. They had been through so much; they finally made it out of Egypt, only to foresee their cruel deaths upon entering Canaan.

Yet there is something strange here. In all of history, it would be difficult to find a generation whose lives were more saturated with miracles than the generation which left Egypt. When Pharaoh's armies pursued them, the sea split to let them pass and then drowned their pursuers. In the desert, Manna from heaven was their daily bread, "Miriam's well" provided them with water, and "clouds of glory" sheltered them from the desert heat and cold. Above all, this nation witnessed—the only time in history—the revelation of G-d Himself at Mt. Sinai sharing with them the ultimate truth of existence.

For these people to doubt G-d's ability to conquer the "mighty inhabitants" of Canaan seems nothing less than ludicrous. Yet this very people embraced the notion, "We cannot go up against these people, for they are mightier than we" and even He!

This is the disturbing power of fear. It is not always rational. Sometimes, it proves more powerful than all of your previous success stories. The fear may be baseless from a rational and empirical point of view, but it still paralyzes you, and freezes you in your tracks. Roosevelt was quite correct in saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." This is what happened to our people on that fateful night of the 9th of Av.

Their weeping in vain on that night was not the reason for the punishment; it was the reason for their crying that caused the consequence. They wept in vain because they did not appreciate that G-d was with them and had given them the power to confront their challenges and overcome their obstacles. When you lose sight of your inner spiritual power, you become a victim to forces and people beyond your control, and you cry for real.

A while ago, Psychology Today published an experiment conducted by a Harvard psychologist named Dr. Robert Rosenthal on a group of students and teachers living in Jerusalem. The experiment went as follows: A group of physical education teachers and students were randomly divided into three groups.

In group A, the teachers were told that previous testing indicated that all the students had an average ability in athletics and an average potential. The teachers were told: “Go train them!”

The second group of teachers were told that students in their group, based on previous testing, exhibited an unusually high potential for excellence in athletics.… “Go and train them!”

The teachers in group C were told that their students had exhibited, based on previous testing, an extremely low potential for athletic training. “Now go train them!”

The teachers were given several weeks to work and interact with their student athletes. At the end of the training period the results were the same for male and female students, and for male and female teachers. All the students who had been randomly identified as having rather average ability performed about average on the tests. All the students who were randomly identified as being above average performed above average. All the students who were randomly identified as below the average performed below the average by a considerable margin. The results of the test indicated that what teachers thought their students’ ability was, and what the students themselves thought their ability was, went a long way toward deciding just how well they performed as athletes.

“Psychology Today” took special note of this experiment because it confirmed in the physical arena what psychologists had long claimed to be true in the educational and emotional arena: The self-fulfilling prophecy. Students in classrooms, workers in shops, patients in therapy, all do better when the person in charge expects them to do well, when they themselves expect to do well. One’s own self esteem and self-image, what people think of themselves and what they are capable of, is an extremely crucial factor in deciding what can be. The way we see ourselves plays an important role in the way others see us as well.

We must never capitulate. As individuals and as a community, we must dismiss the sense of powerlessness. We ought to remember that in every situation we are empowered by G-d to create light out of darkness and to continue our march to bring healing and redemption to our world, with the coming of Moshiach, so that this Tishah B’Av is transformed into a grand festival. Amen.

May Hashem turn the sad days to happy days very soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

Comments on: DO YOU HAVE FEARS?
There are no comments.