What I mean is, no Torah study permitted today. Why not? Because today was Tisha B’Av, a Jewish holiday during which we don’t do anything joyful. We also don’t eat. It’s kind of a warm-up fast day before Yom Kippur.
I say “was” because Jewish days begin at sundown, not midnight, so by now Tisha B’Av is yesterday. (For my Christian friends, if you find this confusing, just think about Christmas Eve and it will make sense).
It’s not a holiday in the traditional sense of the word — it’s more of an observance, a day of communal mourning for various disasters that all happened on the same date, the ninth of Av (the day’s name is also its date).
This was the day that both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed — in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively — and other equally distressing historical events took place, such as the expulsions of the Jews from England in 1290 and then Spain in 1492. Sadly, there’s a long list.
But our rabbis teach that the first disaster on Tisha B’Av was long before the destruction of the first temple. It was when the spies who Moses sent into Canaan returned and urged him to not lead the people into the land:
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had spied to the people of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to spy, is a land that eats up its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature…. and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight. (Numbers 13: 32-33)
The error of the 10 spies (Joshua and Caleb being the dissenting minority) was more than simply being cowards. They demeaned themselves, assuming that the people saw them as grasshoppers. Their misleading report resulted in wandering through the wilderness for 40 more years, so the generation who had been slaves (and still had a slave mentality) would die off.
The snowball effect of the spies’ negative report was tremendous. So too can our own actions and decisions, however minor they may seem at the time, affect us and the ones we love in unexpected ways. Perhaps we can take away from this solemn day a renewed commitment to truth-telling and truth-seeking.
P.S. A strange fact about Tisha B’Av. It’s the ninth day of the month of Av, which is the 11th month on the Jewish calendar, making it 9/11.