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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:


Although the earliest mention we have of a mourning period in the month of Menahem Av dates from the destruction of the Beit haMikdash in 586 BCE (the “First Temple” – see Zekharya 7:3), our tradition dates the tragic nature of that month – specifically the ninth of Menahem Av – to the generation of the Exodus: (See our shiur on Parashat Pinchas “Sinai and Tziyyon” for an essay which addresses the Midrashic tendency to “pre-date” events to this period).

On the 9th of Av:

The sentence was passed against our ancestors that they not be allowed to enter the Land
The 1st Mikdash was destroyed
The 2nd Mikdash was destroyed
Beitar was entrapped
The city was plowed under (M. Ta’anit 4:6)

Haza”l associate the first tragedy of Tish’ah b’Av with the decree that the generation of the Exodus would die in the desert (and their children would enter the Land); furthermore, Rabbinic tradition maintains that that Divine edict was carried out on Tish’ah b’Av each year:

R. Levi said: Each year on the eve of Tish’ah b’Av, Mosheh would send an announcement throughout the camp, saying: Tz’u laH’por, Tz’u laH’por (“go out and dig, go out and dig”). The people would go out and dig graves where they would sleep. In the morning, they would awake and find that 15,000 had died. (JT Ta’anit 4:7 – see also S’forno at Bamidbar 14:38 s.v. Yom laShanah)

The Rabbis, however, do not stop there. Not only do they “pre-date” the pattern of tragedy which is the legacy of Tish’ah b’Av to the national adolescence of the desert; they even find the root cause for all of the later tragedies of that mournful day in the events surrounding the national reaction to the report of the scouts:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night (Bamidbar 14:1 – describing the nation’s reaction to the “slanted” report of the scouts). Rabbah said in the name of R. Yohanan: That night was Tish’ah b’Av; haKadosh Barukh Hu said: They cried for naught, I will establish for them [this night as] a weeping for generations. (BT Sotah 35a)

In this shiur, I will attempt to explain the causal relationship between the “vain weeping” of the B’nei Yisra’el on that fateful desert night and the subsequent tragedies that have scarred our history during this season.



In our Parashah, we are told about three nations that we were commanded to avoid (as opposed to engaging in battle) during our wanderings: Ammon, Mo’av and Edom:

2.5. Contend not with [your brothers the sons of Esav]; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given Mount Se’ir to Esav for a possession. 2.9. And the Lord said to me, Distress not the Mo’avites, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give you of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot for a possession. 2.19. And when you come near opposite the sons of Ammon, harass them not, nor contend with them; for I will not give you of the land of the sons of Ammon any possession; because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.

In each case, the reason for this “protection” is that God has granted the nation that land and that it is not destined to be the inheritance of Am Yisra’el. A careful read of the selected verses, however, reveals a subtle yet significant difference between the “hands-off order” relating to Esav (our “brothers”) and those relating to Ammon and Mo’av. Mount Se’ir belongs to Esav, plain and simple, and we are to allow them to remain there. Ammon and Mo’av, contradistinctively, are not granted their land on their own merit, so to speak; rather, it is their status as B’nei Lot (children of Lot) which seems to afford them their Divine protection. Note that the Torah does not state: For I have given Ar to the sons of Mo’av for a possession or because I have given it to the sons of Ammon for a possession; In each case the Torah stresses to the sons of Lot. Why does the text use this odd language? The question is doubly vexing when we compare it with the restriction regarding war against Esav – wouldn’t it have been more forceful for the Torah to state:

because I have given Mount Se’ir to the children of Yitzchak for a possession?

(Although one could argue that this would have been misleading, since we are also children of Yitzchak, it would have made the “Ovadian transition”, i.e. And saviors shall ascend Mount Tziyyon to judge the Mount of Esav; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s – [Ovadiah 21] that much smoother).

It seems that the Torah is associating the special protection afforded Ammon and Mo’av with their ancestor Lot. What is the rationale behind that association? To wit, how does the identity of Ammon and Mo’av’s forefather determine the prohibition by which the B’nei Yisra’el are not allowed to battle them and conquer their land?




Before addressing the question of the “sons of Lot”, I’d like to raise a more basic problem regarding the original Tish’ah b’Av decree. The Divine response to the people’s reaction to the report of the scouts is reported as follows:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say to them, As truly as I live, said the Lord, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you; Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all who were counted of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me, Shall by no means come into the land, concerning which I swore to make you live in it, save Calev the son of Yephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your backslidings, until your carcasses are wasted in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied the land, forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Bamidbar 14:26-34)

The gist of the Divine decree has two clear aims:

To slowly kill off the “generation of the Exodus” – except for Kalev and Yehoshua (Mosheh, Aharon and Miriam are not mentioned here; are they included in this decree? This is a topic worthy of investigation, considering that they do not, in fact, enter the Land – but beyond the scope of this shiur. The interested reader is encouraged to look at our Parashah, especially 1:37 and the Avrabanel ad loc.). To allow the next generation sufficient time to “bear the iniquities” of the parents until they are ready to enter the Land.

Although the Torah explicitly mentions a third component – And your children shall wander in the wilderness – the reason for this is not clear. Whereas the first two prongs of the decree make eminent sense within the context of the sin – the older generation does not merit entering the Land, nor are their children ready to enter without a period of maturation – this last constituent seems unnecessary. Why couldn’t the people encamp in the desert and remain there for the remaining thirty-eight years – and then resume their march to Eretz Yisra’el where their parents had left off?





Before we can fully answer the last question, let’s take note of the impact of the decree against the generation of the Exodus. A priori, we would grant that the major consequence of the decree was generational-chronological. As opposed to entering immediately, thus moving directly from Egypt to Sinai to Eretz Yisra’el, a new generation, born and/or raised as freemen in the desert, would enter the Land. Instead of there being one generation of destiny, the Dor Yotz’ei Mitzrayim (generation of the Exodus) would not be the Dor Ba’ei ha’Aretz (generation of the conquest of the Land). That proud title would belong to their children.

There is, however, a second (and, surely, secondary) consequence that is often overlooked: The point of entry into the Land. Using the provided map (courtesy of T’nakh Koren), note that Kadesh Barnea, the point of departure of the scouts (D’varim 1:19) is (probably) located near the present border between Israel and Egypt, about half-way between the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The scouts were sent directly north, through the Judean hills, going as far north as Hamath (in Syria):

So they went up and scouted the land from the wilderness of Tzin to Rehov, near Levo-Hamat. (Bamidbar 13:21)

After forty years, however, the people stand in the Plains of Mo’av, in present-day Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. Instead of entering from the south, the nation begins its conquest of Eretz K’na’an from the east – as a result of the decree against our forefathers in the desert.

Although this may seem trivial – for what does it matter where we begin the conquest, so long as we complete it (which we never did – see the first chapter of Sefer Shof’tim)?

I’d like to suggest that the difference is more than trivial – indeed, greater than just a military consideration.

In order to understand this point, let’s look back at the mission of the scouts. As we noted in an earlier shiur (in the name of R. Ya’akov Medan), it is clear that the mission, as described in Bamidbar, was not a “spy mission” at all! The Torah does not use laH’por or l’Ragel (the two words used in T’nakh for “spying”) anywhere in that narrative – only laTur (to scout) is used. In addition, there would be no reason to send twelve “machers” on a spy mission, nor would there be any reason for them to bring back large clusters of grapes. Most telling is the length (geographic as well as temporal) of their journey. There is no reason for spies to travel the length and breadth of a land – nor any need for them to be gone for forty days.

Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate these “oddities” is to compare Mosheh’s scouts with Yehoshuah’s spies (Yehoshua chapter 2). Yehoshua sent two anonymous men (we never learn their names) to one city, Yericho; they spend less than one full day there and report back to Yehoshua and the people immediately.

The interested reader is directed to last years’ shiur on Parashat Sh’lach Lekha for a full treatment of the “two missions”; the scouts mission in Bamidbar and the concurrent spy mission as described in our Parashah.

In any case, a spy mission would entail gathering information about no more than one city – the first city to be conquered. There is no value to learning about the defenses of scores of fortressed cities – if it has not been ascertained that the first city in line of conquest is, indeed, conquerable. That is why Yehoshua’s spies reconnoitered Yericho – that was to be (and indeed was) the first city to be conquered.

A careful look at the “scout” story in Bamidbar, however, reveals the “spy” component in their mission:

They went up into the Negev, and came to Hevron… (Bamidbar 13:22)

In other words, the only city that they entered was Hevron. Why would they enter this one city – if not because it was to be the first city of their conquest?

The route of conquest was to be from the south (as is obvious from the location of the dispatch – Kadesh Barnea); the conquest would begin in Hevron and move north. Thus, we can more easily understand the report of the scouts:

the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. (Bamidbar 13:28).

Hevron is the only city which is objectively reported to include Anakim (meaning some sort of giants – cf. vv. 32-33):

They went up into the Negev, and came to Hevron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites, were there. (ibid. v. 22).

As can be seen from the map, Hevron sits near the southern edge of a mountain range which extends as far north as Sh’khem – and includes (from south to north) Beit-Lechem (not shown), Yerushalayim (here called Yevus) and Beit-El before reaching Sh’khem. [Just a curiosity – most geologists maintain that this range is fairly young and was created by the same rift which drove the Arabian and Sinai peninsulas apart].

It stands to reason that if the first city targeted for conquest was Hevron, that the conquest would continue northwards along the mountain route, with Yevus/Yerushalayim falling next, followed by Beit-El and then Sh’khem.

We can now hypothesize, with confidence, how the first steps of conquest would have played out had the scouts “done their job correctly” (or had the people ignored their infamous report). The B’nei Yisra’el, led by Mosheh Rabbenu, would have entered the land roughly a year and a half after leaving Egypt and would have conquered Hevron. Moving north, they would have conquered Yevus. Undoubtedly, at that point, haKadosh Barukh Hu would have told Mosheh what he eventually told David:

This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it. (T’hillim 132:14)

In other words, there would no longer have been a need for the temporary Mishkan – the Beit haMikdash would have been built immediately; Mosheh would have been seated on the throne of Yisra’el and Aharon haKohen would have inaugurated the worship in the Beit haMikdash. All of the goals of the Exodus would have been achieved – but there’s even more to the story.




A quick look at two journeys described in Sefer B’resheet – the parallel travels of Avraham and Ya’akov – reveal a curious pattern of emigration:

So Avram went, as Hashem had told him; and Lot went with him. Avram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Avram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of K’na’an. When they had come to the land of K’na’an, Avram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the K’na’ani were in the land. Then Hashem appeared to Avram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to Hashem, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to Hashem and invoked the name of Hashem. And Avram journeyed on by stages toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land. So Avram went down to Egypt. (B’resheet 12:4-10)

Note that Ya’akov followed the same pattern, beginning his return to K’na’an at Sh’khem (B’resheet 33:18), moving south to Beit-El (ibid. 35:6) and then returning to Hevron to see his father (ibid. v. 27). Eventually, Ya’akov also descended to Egypt, stopping at B’er Sheva before departing the Land (ibid. 46:1).

If we look further into our history, we see that roughly the same direction was taken in Yehoshua’s conquest of the Land. After conquering Yericho (see below) and ha’Ai, Yehoshua went to Sh’khem for a covenant ceremony (as to why there was no need for battle in Sh’khem or the area – there is a fascinating insight to share here, but it is well beyond the scope of this shiur.) After that, the conquest began, moving in a southerly direction – essentially following in the footsteps of Avraham (see Ramban at B’resheet 12:6).

Keep in mind, however, that Yehoshua’s military strategy was catalyzed, one generation earlier, by the “sin of the scouts”. Had we entered the Land from the ideal direction, we would not have followed Avraham’s footsteps (which ended in the exile of Ya’akov), rather, we would have reversed them, moving first to Hevron and then north, conquering (at least) to Sh’khem. In other words, had we come in from the south, we would have reversed the patriarchal footsteps and, effectively, wiped out the pattern of exile from the national reality.

As a result of our weakness in the desert, we had to continue the patterns established by our forefathers, patterns which ultimately led us down to Egypt and into exile.

What does any of this have to do with the children of Lot?




Why did the people react with so much fear to the report of the scouts? It seems that their faith in God was overcome by the very real – albeit slanted – reports of giants, oversized fruit and numerous enemies. In other words, they followed what they saw over what they knew (or should have known).

This reminds us of an earlier “poor choice” of this type. When Avraham and Lot returned together from Egypt, enriched by Pharaoh, their shepherds quarreled – thus necessitating a separation between uncle and nephew. Avraham gave Lot the choice of where to live:

Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Yarden was well watered everywhere like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Tzo’ar; this was before Hashem had destroyed S’dom and Amorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward; thus they separated from each other. Avram settled in the land of K’na’an, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as S’dom. (B’resheet 13:10-12)

In other words, Lot liked – and missed – Egypt! Now that he was back in K’na’an, at least he was able to find a “little bit of Hutz la’Aretz” – and that’s where he chose to settle (the folly of his choice is foreshadowed in the next verse: Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against Hashem).

How does life in Egypt differ from life in Eretz K’na’an? The Torah describes it quite clearly:

For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by foot like a vegetable garden. But the land that you are crossing over to occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land that Hashem your God looks after. The eyes of Hashem your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (D’varim 11:10-12)

In other words, in Egypt, all of life’s needs are present and accessible to the naked eye. The Land of Israel, on the other hand, is a land which depends on God’s blessing and constant supervision – as expressed through rain (or drought).

Lot chose a “little piece of Egypt” because he preferred the lush plain where the waters could be seen over the hill country where faith is man’s constant companion – and where dependence on God is part of daily reality.

This is exactly how the people reacted to the report of the scouts:

And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is Hashem bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.” (Bamidbar 14:2-4)

The people rejected their Avrahamic legacy of faith in the Unseen in favor of a Lotian favoring of the world of the senses. As a result, they needed to wander until they entered the Land from the “old” direction, continuing in the steps of their wandering Aramean fathers (see D’varim 26:5). Since they were still “Lotians” in their approach, however, they had no moral standing to conquer the lands where Lot’s children lived – hence God’s restriction on going to battle against Ammon and Mo’av. This also explains the awkward wording – for I have given Ar to the children of Lot.It is unseemly for you to conquer Lotian territory if you, yourselves, maintain the perspectives of that cast-off nephew.

We now understand one other anomaly. Since the “hill country” of the Amorites has been, from time immemorial, the critical foothold of any military conquest of the Land, why did Yehoshua place so much emphasis on the conquest of Yericho, which sits in a low plain, well below sea level?

The description of the reconnaissance and destruction of Yericho bears out some interesting facts:

Two agents came into the city to pave the way for its destruction; Only one household took them in – the head of that household having a “shady” sexual history; That householder (and family) were spared the utter destruction of the town – which took place in a miraculous fashion; The town is one of only two to be referred to as Kikkar (plain – see D’varim 34:3).

In case this description does not yet sound familiar, note that the other town in all of T’nakh to be called Kikkar is – S’dom!

Before B’nei Yisra’el could begin their conquest of the core, hill country of Avraham, they had to extirpate their Lotian tendencies, by effecting a second destruction, as it were, of the city of S’dom.



As a result of our favoring the approach of Lot, we not only had our entrance to the Land delayed by one generation; we not only had to enter in the footsteps of our ancestors instead of erasing them; we not only had to redestroy S’dom before beginning our own conquest – but the conquest of Yerushalayim and the building of the Beit HaMikdash was delayed by over four hundred years! Is it any wonder, then, that it took the return of a daughter of Lot (Ruth), who was nearly a female version of Avraham (see our shiurim on Megillat Ruth) to bring the child into the world who would finally complete that task? David, indeed, was the antidote to Lotianism – but the cycles of mourning were already planted into our national destiny, such that even that great building which he helped to found would not stand forever. On Tish’ah b’Av we not only weep for the destroyed Mikdash – we also weep for our historic inability to live up to the standards of faith set by our ancestors.

Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.