Tisha B’Av – Sin and Its Punishment, 40 Years of Desert Wandering

For two thousand years, we have been marking and experiencing Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of the fifth month, with sadness. We read the book of Lamentations as though it happened yesterday. Even when the return of the exiles began in recent years, we were still affected by that trauma of past centuries.

Actually, we know, as does the rest of the world, that the tragedy of Tisha B’Av did not come upon our people as a surprise. Nor was it the result of military or national weakness. It was because of spiritual sickness, or more accurately, spiritual flabbiness. We had distanced ourselves from the Creator. We were preoccupied with life in this world (“let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”). You could say that we had simply become modernized. But this imbalance is exactly what turns a healthy person (or society) into a sick one.

We had received a directive and command from our God, the Maker and Lord of the world: “Be holy, for I Myself am holy.” (Lev. 11:44-45; Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:26). He separated us from the rest of the peoples to be His (Lev. 20:26; 1 Kings 8:53). When the people of Israel are far from the way of Hashem and are not obedient to His laws, they are very far from being “holy”.

By means of the Exile, the Creator was able to convey to His Chosen People that they were not on the right road. Yet the time would come when He would return them to the place where they belong – according to the promise the Creator had made to the forefathers, even swearing an oath to them.

Various other religions decided that the punishment Israel received for their sins would be forever, and that God chose other people to take Israel’s place. The “proof” was that Israel was sitting in exile, suffering, persecuted, with their God doing nothing to save them. Even the Temple, once called His House, was destroyed and never rebuilt. “Now,” says this new and more correct religion (called Replacement Theology), “the spiritual ‘Israel’ is us.”

For the past 2000 years that this replacement theory has been embraced, its teachers have developed it, given it different colors, and used different kinds of “new evidence” to convince the world of its validity. Today, it wears a mask of democracy and equality (which ends up being fake). Yet its roots do not come from either democracy or equality – on the contrary, it’s the Jewish faith that exemplifies equality of all men before the Creator.

Those who promote Replacement Theology have “forgotten” or “not managed” to read the promises of Hashem in Jeremiah 31:35-37:

This is what the Lord says,
He who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
The Lord of armies is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the descendants of Israel also will cease
To be a nation before Me forever.”
This is what the Lord says:
“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also reject all the descendants of Israel
For everything that they have done,” declares the Lord.

The promises are equally clear about returning Israel to their homeland (Jer. 16:15; Jer. 23:7-8; Jer. 30:1-3). So is the promise to save Israel and take revenge on their oppressors (Jer. 30:10-11). There’s a special threat hanging over those who took advantage of the exile to take Israel’s homeland for themselves (Ezek. 35:5-15; Joel 3:2).

So, there is hope for Israel. What does our God want from us? To return to Him from the place where we have fallen. To cry over the brokenness of His House, but with hope for a new House, as in the days of old.

Our Father, our King, renders judgment as a King should, but with compassion like a Father over His children. He gives hope for the future that is promised to His people. We recognize that everything which happened to us during our wandering in the desert, all the trials and sins that we committed during that time. But it’s equally important to pay attention to how the Creator saw those forty years in the desert:

“Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I remember regarding you the devotion of your youth, your love when you were a bride, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown.”’” (Jer. 2:2)

My dear friends, this is a bedrock truth. Our Lord remembers the difficult and complicated trek of Israel through the desert for forty years. It was a hard and pitiless road, with the sun beating down by day, freezing nights, without a green tree or flower to refresh the soul. Besides the merciless environment, there were many spiritual and physical enemies along the way, all trying to short-circuit the Almighty’s plan. In contrast, Israel was like a bride in love, trailing after her Groom wherever He led. And the Groom never forgot this!

Blessed be His Name – with a Groom like this, a Father like this, a God like this, there is certainly hope for all of us who believe in Him, as well as for those still on the way to faith in Him. So, although we cannot forget the destruction of two Temples, we trust that the third Temple will be built as promised.

Let us walk in His ways, without trying to be overly clever. Amen and amen!


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