Tisha B’Av – A Reason Without a Reason

Tisha B’Av, a day of immense sorrow and crying, is upon us. How did it all start? Why have so many calamities happened to the Jewish People on this day?

The Gemara in Taanis 29a quotes a pasuk in Bamidbar 14:1, regarding the episode of the spies after they gave a slanderous report about the Land of Israel: “’The entire community raised their voices and shouted and the people wept on that night.’ Rabba said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan, ‘That night was the night of Tisha B’Av.’ Hashem said to them, ‘You cried a crying for naught and I will set for you a cry for generations.’”

My Rosh Yeshiva of blessed memory, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, explains, as found in the Chiddushei HaLev on Eichah, that it would appear from this gemara that the Jewish people were punished not only for a lack of faith in Hashem (and the crying was a symbol that they had lacked proper faith), but that they were also punished for crying “a cry for naught.” Meaning, the Jews really didn’t have a proper reason to cry, because Hashem would have saved them and protected them from any harm. That being the case, there was a claim against the Jewish people for crying “a cry for naught,” and it is forbidden for a person to be a “crybaby,” to bemoan and cry for no reason.

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked a major question on this Gemara:why were the Jews punished for crying without reason? In their eyes they had a good reason to cry;they thought they would fall by the sword and their women and children would be taken captive! Even though this was  a mistake, still, in all, according to their logic, when they did not have complete trust in Hashem they had a good reason to cry. They weren’t “crybabies,” and they did not cry for naught?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that the Jewish people were indeed punished for not acting appropriately and crying for no reason since in truth their lives were not in danger. They really had no reason to cry, forif the Jewish people had been on a level of proper trust in Hashem then certainly they would not have acted inappropriately by crying for naught and would not have deserved punishment. So too now, where the Jews were not on a proper level of trust in Hashem, they are punished for crying and they cannot absolve themselves of punishment by claiming they did not have enough trust in Hashem, for the sin of lack of faith cannot be an excuse for acting inappropriately.

Similarly the Chofetz Chaim writes in the introduction to his book (Sefer Chofetz Chaim, lav 6): “That one who speaks and accepts loshon hara or slander also violates the Torah prohibition of ‘Do not profane My Holy Name,’ for he does not have any desire or physical pleasure to speak slanderously which would cause his evil inclination to get the better of him, therefore this sin is considered like rebelling and removing the Yoke of Heaven and one is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name.”
My Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: how it is possible to think that one who speaks loshon hara does not get any benefit from his deed? We see day-in and day-out people enjoying speaking loshon harah!?

The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that it must be that since this benefit stems from a negative character trait [i.e. gaavah or haughtiness], that one who spoke loshon hara cannot have a more lenient punishment just because he benefited from his actions. The reason being is that a negative character trait cannot exempt a person for acting inappropriately, therefore he is judged as if he transgressed without benefiting from it one iota, which is profaning Hashem’s Holy Name and rebelling against Him.

It would seem that an action stemming from a negative character trait like a lack of trust in Hashem or haughtiness is an act without reason. This is because there is no excuse for the sin. If a person was hungry and needed to sustain himself, but his desires got the better of him and he ate non-kosher food, that would be one thing. It is a sin, but not as bad as sinning without reason, because the action at least stemmed from a positive source and the evil inclination just got the better of him and convinced him to sin. But in the case of the Jewish People in the desert, the sin began with an acceptance of loshon hara, and since their crying for no reason did not stem from anything positive or needed, it was therefore judged as  without reason, just as speaking loshon hara is considered a sin without positive motivation since it does not stem from any positive desire or need which therefore deems it a chilul Hashem.

For this reason Hashem gave us a real reason to cry, which can only be rectified by annihilating baseless hatred and loshon hara from our being, in order to bring us closer to the Final Redemption, may it come speedily in our days.

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