The Talmud tells us that the episode of the spies was the cause of the destruction of both Temples, and all other calamities associated with the ninth day of Av. That’s on a Pshat level. On a Sod level, the source goes back even further.
According to Kabbalah, the source of the destruction of the temples was the breaking of the first set of tablets. After returning from on top of the mountain, and after seeing the golden calf in the camp below, Moshe Rabbeinu threw down the tablets he was carrying and broke them. He may have broken the First Tablets physically, but it caused a spiritual breaking with ramifications all through history.
If that is true . . . and it is, then even the Luchos HaRishonos—the First Tablets—are not the source of the destruction of the temples. The golden calf which led to their breaking was. It was the handiwork of the Erev Rav that Moshe Rabbeinu “mistakenly” took out of Egypt along with the Jewish people, against the advice of God.
That being the case, then the Erev Rav was not the “source” of the disaster either. As the Arizal explains, the Erev Rav were the reincarnated souls that Adam HaRishon had produced during his 130 years of teshuvah (Eiruvin 18b; Sha’ar HaPesukim, Shemos).
Well, if you’re going to go that far back in time to track down the original cause that led eventually to Tisha B’Av, you might as well go all the way back to the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra—the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Had it not been for THAT sin, then Adam would not have needed to repent for 130 years and produce Erev Rav-grade souls.
The truth be told, even THAT sin was not the start of it all. Kabbalah further teaches that the only reason the sin of eating took place was because Adam had already committed the sin of “looking.” Apparently, the Leshem explains, had Adam HaRishon not looked at the Aitz HaDa’as, which he did with the best of intentions, the snake would never have entered the Garden. This is what allowed the snake to entice Chava to eat in the first place.
When Adam HaRishon was first created, he had no internal yetzer hara. He was perfectly balanced between good and evil and had no idea what it was like to disobey God. He also had no intention to violate the command of God, just to fulfill his role as the one to rectify Creation. He knew that path lay through the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra, and studied it to figure out how.
It was the right idea, but at the wrong time. As the Leshem explains, Adam had not been spiritually capable of carrying out his mission at that time, and should have nothing but wait for Shabbos. Shabbos would have transformed everything, and then it would have been the right idea AND the right time.
Tisha B’Av is just one VERY painful reminder that Adam HaRishon jumped the gun on personally carrying out world rectification. It is also a teacher of one of the most important lessons about life, about what it means to build rather than to destroy. It is a message that permeates every syllable of Megillas Eichah.
We finish dovening everyday with the words:
Rebi Elazar said on behalf of Rebi Chanina: “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it says, ‘And all of your children will be students of God, and your children—banayich—will have peace’ (Yeshayahu 54:13). Do not read “banayich,” “your children,” but “bonayich,” “your builders.” (Brochos 64b)
What does it mean to be a builder? To be a successful one, you have to build something that can remain standing. That usually means having some kind of plan, and working out all the potential problems in advance. Then they can be solved on paper, not on site.
In a sense, being an architect is like being a chess player. You have to think many moves ahead to avoid loss. You have to anticipate the obstacles while they are still only potentials, so that they never become realized. You have to look at what exists today and project its path into the future.
The Talmud has another name for such a person:
Who is the wise person? One who sees what is being born. (Tamid 32a)
In other words, when they act in the present, they consider the future. When something occurs today they wonder about its impact tomorrow. When they say something in the here-and-now they are concerned about what it might cause later on. This takes a lot of wisdom, and grants a person more control over their future.
Take Kamza, for example (Gittin 55b). When he ejected Bar Kamza from his festive meal, he probably had no idea that it would result in an invasion from the Romans and the destruction of the Temple (Gittin 57a). Would he have been a better host if had known it would? Probably.
How many things in life go “south” in a very bad way because someone did not consider their present actions or words? Even world wars become world wars because leaders did not properly calculate the potential future impact of their current political policies.
The message is extremely profound, and profoundly summed up in one word: eichah—how? HOW did it ever get so bad? HOW did things ever get so out of control? HOW did something so good become something so bad? Which “left turn” caused everything to take such a destructive course?
The same message was embodied in God’s question to Adam HaRishon after his sin: “Ayekah?” It is translated as, “Where are you?” but is spelled the exact same way as “eichah.” From ayekah to eichah, it’s been the same story all through history.
Amazingly, the original cause is often something small and subtle. It may show little potential for anything bad. It takes a wise person to chart the course of an act or word, to see its cause-and-effect, in order to figure out the best course of action in the present. That makes a person a builder. Now that the official period of mourning has passed, we need to learn the lesson and become builders to truly be comforted.