The period in the Jewish calendar that we are in right now is traditionally known as Bein Hametzarim, "within the days of distress", and is sometimes referred to as "The Three Weeks". It started on the fast day of Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, and ends three weeks later on the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the fast day of Tishah B'Av, the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (this year the fast is deferred from Saturday August 13th to Sunday August 14th).
This three-week period is a time of national mourning for the Jewish people, as many terribly tragic events in our history occurred during this time. Moses broke the Ten Commandments on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached, both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on Tishah B'Av (and all that remains of the Temple today is the Kosel Hama'aravi - the Western Wall), the wicked king Apustomus burned the Holy Torah, the Expulsion from Spain was set for this time in 1492, and the list goes on and on. And, ultimately, our being exiled and dispersed among the nations only to be persecuted and tortured for the last 1900 or so years, is a direct result of the Romans destroying the Temple and expelling all the Jewish people from the land of Israel during this period in the year 70 C.E.
The Talmud in Ta’anis 29a tells us that the men that Moses sent to spy out the Land of Israel returned from their mission on the night of Tishah B’Av, and their negative report about the land and its inhabitants caused the Jewish People to cry bitterly throughout the night (see Numbers 14:1). Thus G-d declared: “You cried a cry that was unnecessary on that night; I will establish for you a justified reason for crying on this night for all generations”.
We see from this Talmudic passage that all the tragedies that befell the Jewish people on Tishah B’Av, and our exile from the Land of Israel, have their roots in the sin of the Spies.
Let’s examine the sin of the Spies a little more closely…
The Torah states that when describing the giant Canaanites who inhabited the land, the Spies told the Jewish people: “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes” (ibid 13:33)
Rash”i explains how the Spies could have known how they appeared to the giants: "We heard them (the Canaanites) saying, 'There are ants in the vineyards which look like men.'" Rabbi Ovadiah Mi'Bartenura wonders why Rash”i writes the word "ants" when, in fact, the Spies had said, "We were like grasshoppers." He explains that when one views himself as a grasshopper, others will view him as something even smaller, such as an ant.
In other words, on some level, the Spies lacked self-esteem. They didn’t believe in themselves and in their ability to lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel.
Indeed, the Kotzker Rebbe ZT”L comments that the Spies' remark that “so we were in their eyes” was at the root of their sin. They were too concerned about what the inhabitants of the land were saying about them because of their low self-esteem. As Jews, we are emissaries of the Al-mighty with a positive mission in this world. We must believe in our mission and in our G-d-given ability to carry it out. If we don’t believe in ourselves, if we are too worried about others might say about us, our mission will fail.
When the Jewish people cried that Tishah B’Av night 3328 years ago “an unnecessary cry” – because they really did have the ability to conquer the land and their only impediment was their own low self-esteem – G-d declared that they would have lots to cry about on Tishah B’Av night throughout the long and difficult exile.
So the problem is us. We, the Jewish people, don’t fully believe in ourselves and in our ability to be a true “light unto the nations” – and we are never going to get out of our exile until we do. We need to start thinking about how great we are as a nation, and why we alone were chosen by G-d for this most important mission.
We, the Jewish people, are the most glorious nation on earth. Yes it’s true! How do I know this, you ask? Well, I will tell you. This is not something I heard from Jewish people. No way! In fact, I am willing to be that most Jews today don’t believe that we are so glorious – which, as I mentioned before, is the reason why we are still fasting on Tishah B’Av every year.
I got this idea from non-Jews, some pretty famous ones, too… like, Tolstoy, Churchill, Twain, etc.
Read their quotes (below) and you will begin to see why we Jews truly are the most glorious nation on earth. And when all our Jewish brothers and sisters finally begin to realize who we are as Jews and why we are indeed so great – we will then have the self-esteem we need to be able to fulfill our collective mission as Jews – and we will bring this exile to a happy end. Amen!
Winston S. Churchill: “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”
John F. Kennedy: “Israel was not created in order to disappear- Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: "Energy is the basis of everything. Every Jew, no matter how insignificant, is engaged in some decisive and immediate pursuit of a goal. It is the most perpetual people of the earth.”
John Adams: "I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews.”
“The Jews started it all - and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings ... We would think with a different mind, interpret all our experiences differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.”
Leo Tolstoy: "What is the Jew? What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?! The Jew - is the symbol of eternity ...He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”
Mark Twain: "...If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.
He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”