That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. — Numbers 14:1
The Torah portion for this week is Shelach, which means “send,” from Numbers 13:1–15:41, and the Haftorah is from Joshua 2:1–24.
A story is told about the famous French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. He was traveling through a Jewish town in Europe when he entered a synagogue. There he saw men, women, and children, all sitting on the floor, weeping and reading from ancient texts. The room was almost completely dark and the atmosphere was gloomy.
“What great misfortune occurred?” Napoleon wanted to know. He assumed that something terrible must have just happened to the Jews. The Jewish officer with him knew otherwise. He explained, “It is the ninth of Av on the Hebrew calendar. On this day, every year, Jews around the world gather to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.” Napoleon asked, “When did that happen?” The officer replied, “Two thousand years ago.” Napoleon was shocked and said, “Any people that still cry for their land and their Temple after two thousand years will surely merit seeing both returned to them.”
Indeed, the land of Israel has been returned to the Jewish people. But as the Temple still lies in ruins, Jews continue to mourn on the ninth of Av. In fact, it’s not just the destruction of the Temples that we mourn on that day. The ninth of Av is a black day in Jewish history, a day when many tragedies occurred, including the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, and the beginning of World War I which led to World War II and the Holocaust. The ninth of Av is a day of sadness, and it has its roots in this week’s reading.
When the spies returned to the Israelites and gave a bad report about the land of Israel, they caused weeping among the people. Even thought they had just witnessed the awesome power of God in Egypt and had recently pledged to accept His Torah and obey His commands, the Israelites lacked faith and obedience that night. They cried because they didn’t want to go into Israel. They cried because they were afraid. But ultimately, they cried for no good reason.
It’s as if God responded “They cried for no reason, so I will give them a good reason to cry!” That night, according to Jewish tradition, was the ninth of Av, which has become a night of tears for all generations.
Friends, let’s be careful what we cry about. If we whine and complain for no good reason, it won’t go over well with God. On the other hand, the Jewish sages teach that when we cry for good reasons, we will be rewarded. Those who weep over the Temple will get to see it rebuilt. Those who cry for the sake of God will see Him do great things for them.