This week’s parsha, Devarim, is always read on the Shabbat before the national day of mourning, Tisha B’Av. Since there are no coincidences, especially not in the Torah, we must conclude that there is a close relationship with the Torah reading and the day that is the anniversary of the destruction of the Holy Temple and the commencement of thousands of years of exile.
It takes only a cursory view of the parsha to discover its connection to Tisha B’Av. This Torah reading relates how Moses rebukes, albeit gently and subtly, the Jewish people for all of their mistakes that they were guilty of during their forty year sojourn in the desert.
Of all the misadventures of the Jews then, the one that stands out in its relationship with Tisha B’Av, is the incident with the spies, which our sages tell us culminated on Tisha B’Av! By rectifying the causes of that misfortune, we can also undo the negative effects of Tisha B’Av, and bring Moshiach and the final Redemption.
When discussing the spies that were sent to scout the land, the Torah describes their journey with the opening word “Vayifnu-and they turned [and they climbed the mountain].” The expression “and they turned“ is somewhat problematic. Couldn‘t the text have stated “and they climbed the mountain?” What did they turn away from? Indeed, when the Torah described their journey in the preceding book of Numbers, it just says plainly “And they climbed.”
Or Hachaim, one of the great Bible commentators, explains that it means that they turned away from the right path. Before they commenced their mission, they were righteous. No sooner did they begin traveling that they turned away from the right path.
It should be noted that the Torah does not say that they did anything wrong at that time. But, at that point they already made a crucial turn and movement that affected their decision in the future.
The lesson for ourselves is clear. Whenever we want to make amends for our past mistakes, it does not suffice to go back in time and isolate the errant behavior, excise it and go on with life. It is imperative that we go back to the point in time when we made the wrong turn, i.e., a change in attitude.
What is true in the realm of dealing with evil, is equally true about embracing goodness. By changing our attitude towards the positive and holy in life, we are already on the road to Redemption. To be sure, going in the right direction must be followed by concrete action. Nevertheless, the mere decision to turn our lives around, can change the landscape of the entire world.
It is interesting to note that Maimonides, when discussing the criteria for the Moshiach, states that he will “influence of all Israel to go in its [Torah’s] path.” The road to Redemption begins with just one turn onto the right path, even before we correct all of our mistakes and perform all the mitzvot.
Our generation has witnessed incredible changes for the good. The nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century were punctuated with individuals, movements, and events that undermined both the material and spiritual well-being of the Jewish people. In recent decades and years, however, we have witnessed a resurgence of all facets of Jewish life. Of all these changes, the most dramatic and encouraging is the decision of many individuals and groups to go in the right direction.
Our sages assure us that one mitzvah will lead to another, so that these changes will lead to many more. But, perhaps, as important, is the realization that Teshuvah — translated as repentance, and more correctly as return — involves one’s initial movement onto the right path. In the spirit of our sages declaration: “If Israel does Teshuvah they will be redeemed immediately,” we, as a nation, have turned onto the right path and are ready for the future Redemption, at which time we will celebrate Tisha B’Av as a joyous holiday!
May we experience this transformation this year!