A Taste of Torah: Weekly Commentary from the JTS Community
Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
July 31, 2004 13 Av 5764
This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Fellow
On Tishah b'Av, commemorated this past Monday and Tuesday evenings, the Jewish community focuses on the many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people throughout the ages. This day is of central importance to the Jewish calendar. The Mishnah of tractate Taanit 26a-b lists four events that occurred on the Ninth of Av: the decree that the generation of Israelites that left Egypt could not enter the Land of Israel; the destruction of the First and Second Temples (586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively); the capture and fall of Betar under the Romans (135 CE); and the plowing over of Jerusalem (136 CE). Numerous other tragic events are said to have also occurred on this fateful date, including the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. This litany of national disasters led the sages to proclaim "merit occurs on a day of merit while tragedy occurs on a day of tragedy" (Ta'anit 29b). They enjoined us to recall the events of Tishah b'Av every year.
Indeed, commemoration and memory are sacred to the collective consciousness of the Jewish people. Yet, as we find ourselves commemorating tragedy, we must also ask, "how is it that we affirm life?" How do we make sure that we always take note of the small blessings of everyday life? How do we focus on the good?
Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk (1787-1859), gives us insight into the extent to which we are commanded to find beauty and good in life. Sparked by Moses' request, "I will pass, I pray thee, and I will see the good land" (Deuteronomy 3: 25), Rabbi Mendl of Kotzk asks "Why does the verse state 'I will see?'" This is obvious! By virtue of passing into the land, he would surely see it! Rather, Rabbi Mendl explains, "Moses prayed that in his coming to the Land of Israel he would merit seeing the goodness which rests in the Land - that he would see the land as good, and not as the spies had perceived it, a land of many faults."
Moses' prayer to see the good is a prayer from the depth of his heart. To view the good in a situation is far more difficult than to dwell on the bad. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult for us to avoid lashon hara, evil language and gossip. Yet, the time has come to make lashon tov, good language, a part of our vocabulary.
Let us always strive to see the good in others: - their thoughts and deeds. And, may we all, like Moses, even in this week of negative memories, merit seeing the goodness of the Land of Israel shining through.
With wishes for a good week and Shabbat shalom!!