Tish'ah b'Av and the Children of Lot
A WEEPING FOR GENERATIONS
Although the earliest mention we have of a mourning period in the month of
Menahem Av dates from the destruction of the Beit haMikdash in 586 BCE (the
"First Temple" - see Zekharya 7:3), our tradition dates the tragic nature of
that month - specifically the ninth of Menahem Av - to the generation of the
Exodus: (See our shiur on Parashat Pinchas "Sinai and Tziyyon" for an essay
which addresses the Midrashic tendency to "pre-date" events to this period).
On the 9th of Av:
The sentence was passed against our ancestors that they not be allowed
to enter the Land
The 1st Mikdash was destroyed
The 2nd Mikdash was destroyed
Beitar was entrapped
The city was plowed under (M. Ta'anit 4:6)
Haza"l associate the first tragedy of Tish'ah b'Av with the decree that the
generation of the Exodus would die in the desert (and their children would
enter the Land); furthermore, Rabbinic tradition maintains that that Divine
edict was carried out on Tish'ah b'Av each year:
R. Levi said: Each year on the eve of Tish'ah b'Av, Mosheh would send an
announcement throughout the camp, saying: Tz'u laH'por, Tz'u laH'por ("go
out and dig, go out and dig"). The people would go out and dig graves where
they would sleep. In the morning, they would awake and find that 15,000 had
died. (JT Ta'anit 4:7 - see also S'forno at Bamidbar 14:38 s.v. Yom laShanah)
The Rabbis, however, do not stop there. Not only do they "pre-date" the
pattern of tragedy which is the legacy of Tish'ah b'Av to the national
adolescence of the desert; they even find the root cause for all of the
later tragedies of that mournful day in the events surrounding the national
reaction to the report of the scouts:
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night
(Bamidbar 14:1 - describing the nation's reaction to the "slanted" report of
the scouts). Rabbah said in the name of R. Yohanan: That night was Tish'ah
b'Av; haKadosh Barukh Hu said: They cried for naught, I will establish for
them [this night as] a weeping for generations. (BT Sotah 35a)
In this shiur, I will attempt to explain the causal relationship between the
"vain weeping" of the B'nei Yisra'el on that fateful desert night and the
subsequent tragedies that have scarred our history during this season.
THE INHERITANCE OF THE CHILDREN OF LOT
In our Parashah, we are told about three nations that we were commanded to
avoid (as opposed to engaging in battle) during our wanderings: Ammon, Mo'av
2.5. Contend not with [your brothers the sons of Esav]; for I will not give
you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given
Mount Se'ir to Esav for a possession.
2.9. And the Lord said to me, Distress not the Mo'avites, neither contend
with them in battle; for I will not give you of their land for a possession;
because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot for a possession.
2.19. And when you come near opposite the sons of Ammon, harass them not,
nor contend with them; for I will not give you of the land of the sons of
Ammon any possession; because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a
In each case, the reason for this "protection" is that God has granted the
nation that land and that it is not destined to be the inheritance of Am
Yisra'el. A careful read of the selected verses, however, reveals a subtle
yet significant difference between the "hands-off order" relating to Esav
(our "brothers") and those relating to Ammon and Mo'av. Mount Se'ir belongs
to Esav, plain and simple, and we are to allow them to remain there. Ammon
and Mo'av, contradistinctively, are not granted their land on their own
merit, so to speak; rather, it is their status as B'nei Lot (children of
Lot) which seems to afford them their Divine protection. Note that the Torah
does not state: For I have given Ar to the sons of Mo'av for a possession or
because I have given it to the sons of Ammon for a possession; In each case
the Torah stresses to the sons of Lot. Why does the text use this odd
language? The question is doubly vexing when we compare it with the
restriction regarding war against Esav - wouldn't it have been more forceful
for the Torah to state:
because I have given Mount Se'ir to the children of Yitzchak for a possession?
(Although one could argue that this would have been misleading, since we are
also children of Yitzchak, it would have made the "Ovadian transition", i.e.
And saviors shall ascend Mount Tziyyon to judge the Mount of Esav; and the
kingdom shall be the Lord's - [Ovadiah 21] that much smoother).
It seems that the Torah is associating the special protection afforded Ammon
and Mo'av with their ancestor Lot. What is the rationale behind that
association? To wit, how does the identity of Ammon and Mo'av's forefather
determine the prohibition by which the B'nei Yisra'el are not allowed to
battle them and conquer their land?
THE DECREE: FORTY YEARS...
BUT WHY WANDER?
Before addressing the question of the "sons of Lot", I'd like to raise a
more basic problem regarding the original Tish'ah b'Av decree. The Divine
response to the people's reaction to the report of the scouts is reported as
And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with
this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings
of the people of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say to them, As truly
as I live, said the Lord, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to
you; Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all who were counted
of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward,
who have murmured against me, Shall by no means come into the land,
concerning which I swore to make you live in it, save Calev the son of
Yephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which you said
should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which
you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this
wilderness. And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years,
and bear your backslidings, until your carcasses are wasted in the
wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied the land,
forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, forty
years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Bamidbar
The gist of the Divine decree has two clear aims:
To slowly kill off the "generation of the Exodus" - except for Kalev and
Yehoshua (Mosheh, Aharon and Miriam are not mentioned here; are they
included in this decree? This is a topic worthy of investigation,
considering that they do not, in fact, enter the Land - but beyond the scope
of this shiur. The interested reader is encouraged to look at our Parashah,
especially 1:37 and the Avrabanel ad loc.). To allow the next generation
sufficient time to "bear the iniquities" of the parents until they are ready
to enter the Land.
Although the Torah explicitly mentions a third component - And your children
shall wander in the wilderness - the reason for this is not clear. Whereas
the first two prongs of the decree make eminent sense within the context of
the sin - the older generation does not merit entering the Land, nor are
their children ready to enter without a period of maturation - this last
constituent seems unnecessary. Why couldn't the people encamp in the desert
and remain there for the remaining thirty-eight years - and then resume
their march to Eretz Yisra'el where their parents had left off?
A NEW GENERATION AND
A NEW DIRECTION
Before we can fully answer the last question, let's take note of the impact
of the decree against the generation of the Exodus. A priori, we would grant
that the major consequence of the decree was generational-chronological. As
opposed to entering immediately, thus moving directly from Egypt to Sinai to
Eretz Yisra'el, a new generation, born and/or raised as freemen in the
desert, would enter the Land. Instead of there being one generation of
destiny, the Dor Yotz'ei Mitzrayim (generation of the Exodus) would not be
the Dor Ba'ei ha'Aretz (generation of the conquest of the Land). That proud
title would belong to their children.
There is, however, a second (and, surely, secondary) consequence that is
often overlooked: The point of entry into the Land. Using the provided map
(courtesy of T'nakh Koren), note that Kadesh Barnea, the point of departure
of the scouts (D'varim 1:19) is (probably) located near the present border
between Israel and Egypt, about half-way between the Mediterranean Sea and
the Gulf of Aqaba. The scouts were sent directly north, through the Judean
hills, going as far north as Hamath (in Syria):
So they went up and scouted the land from the wilderness of Tzin to Rehov,
near Levo-Hamat. (Bamidbar 13:21)
After forty years, however, the people stand in the Plains of Mo'av, in
present-day Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. Instead of entering from the
south, the nation begins its conquest of Eretz K'na'an from the east - as a
result of the decree against our forefathers in the desert.
Although this may seem trivial - for what does it matter where we begin the
conquest, so long as we complete it (which we never did - see the first
chapter of Sefer Shof'tim)?
I'd like to suggest that the difference is more than trivial - indeed,
greater than just a military consideration.
In order to understand this point, let's look back at the mission of the
scouts. As we noted in an earlier shiur (in the name of R. Ya'akov Medan),
it is clear that the mission, as described in Bamidbar, was not a "spy
mission" at all! The Torah does not use laH'por or l'Ragel
(the two words used in T'nakh for "spying") anywhere in that narrative
- only laTur (to scout) is used. In addition, there would be no reason to
send twelve "machers" on a spy mission, nor would there be any reason for
them to bring back large clusters of grapes. Most telling is the length
(geographic as well as temporal) of their journey. There is no reason for
spies to travel the length and breadth of a land - nor any need for them to
be gone for forty days.
Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate these "oddities" is to compare
Mosheh's scouts with Yehoshuah's spies (Yehoshua chapter 2). Yehoshua sent
two anonymous men (we never learn their names) to one city, Yericho; they
spend less than one full day there and report back to Yehoshua and the
The interested reader is directed to last years' shiur on Parashat Sh'lach
Lekha for a full treatment of the "two missions"; the scouts mission in
Bamidbar and the concurrent spy mission as described in our Parashah.
In any case, a spy mission would entail gathering information about no more
than one city - the first city to be conquered. There is no value to
learning about the defenses of scores of fortressed cities - if it has not
been ascertained that the first city in line of conquest is, indeed,
conquerable. That is why Yehoshua's spies reconnoitered Yericho - that was
to be (and indeed was) the first city to be conquered.
A careful look at the "scout" story in Bamidbar, however, reveals the "spy"
component in their mission:
They went up into the Negev, and came to Hevron... (Bamidbar 13:22)
In other words, the only city that they entered was Hevron. Why would they
enter this one city - if not because it was to be the first city of their
The route of conquest was to be from the south (as is obvious from the
location of the dispatch - Kadesh Barnea); the conquest would begin in
Hevron and move north. Thus, we can more easily understand the report of the
the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and
very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. (Bamidbar 13:28).
Hevron is the only city which is objectively reported to include Anakim
(meaning some sort of giants - cf. vv. 32-33):
They went up into the Negev, and came to Hevron; and Ahiman, Sheshai, and
Talmai, the Anakites, were there. (ibid. v. 22).
As can be seen from the map, Hevron sits near the southern edge of a
mountain range which extends as far north as Sh'khem - and includes
(from south to north) Beit-Lechem (not shown), Yerushalayim (here called
Yevus) and Beit-El before reaching Sh'khem. [Just a curiosity - most
geologists maintain that this range is fairly young and was created by the
same rift which drove the Arabian and Sinai peninsulas apart].
It stands to reason that if the first city targeted for conquest was Hevron,
that the conquest would continue northwards along the mountain route, with
Yevus/Yerushalayim falling next, followed by Beit-El and then Sh'khem.
We can now hypothesize, with confidence, how the first steps of conquest
would have played out had the scouts "done their job correctly" (or had the
people ignored their infamous report). The B'nei Yisra'el, led by Mosheh
Rabbenu, would have entered the land roughly a year and a half after leaving
Egypt and would have conquered Hevron. Moving north, they would have
conquered Yevus. Undoubtedly, at that point, haKadosh Barukh Hu would have
told Mosheh what he eventually told David:
This is my resting place forever; here I will reside, for I have desired it.
In other words, there would no longer have been a need for the temporary
Mishkan - the Beit haMikdash would have been built immediately; Mosheh would
have been seated on the throne of Yisra'el and Aharon haKohen would have
inaugurated the worship in the Beit haMikdash. All of the goals of the
Exodus would have been achieved - but there's even more to the story.
FOLLOWING IN THE PATRIARCHAL FOOTSTEPS -
OR ERASING THEM
A quick look at two journeys described in Sefer B'resheet - the parallel
travels of Avraham and Ya'akov - reveal a curious pattern of emigration:
So Avram went, as Hashem had told him; and Lot went with him. Avram was
seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Avram took his wife
Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had
gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set
forth to go to the land of K'na'an. When they had come to the land of
K'na'an, Avram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak
of Moreh. At that time the K'na'ani were in the land. Then Hashem appeared
to Avram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built
there an altar to Hashem, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to
the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on
the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to Hashem and
invoked the name of Hashem. And Avram journeyed on by stages toward the
Negev. Now there was a famine in the land. So Avram went down to Egypt.
Note that Ya'akov followed the same pattern, beginning his return to K'na'an
at Sh'khem (B'resheet 33:18), moving south to Beit-El (ibid.
35:6) and then returning to Hevron to see his father (ibid. v. 27).
Eventually, Ya'akov also descended to Egypt, stopping at B'er Sheva before
departing the Land (ibid. 46:1).
If we look further into our history, we see that roughly the same direction
was taken in Yehoshua's conquest of the Land. After conquering Yericho (see
below) and ha'Ai, Yehoshua went to Sh'khem for a covenant ceremony (as to
why there was no need for battle in Sh'khem or the area - there is a
fascinating insight to share here, but it is well beyond the scope of this
shiur.) After that, the conquest began, moving in a southerly direction -
essentially following in the footsteps of Avraham (see Ramban at B'resheet
Keep in mind, however, that Yehoshua's military strategy was catalyzed, one
generation earlier, by the "sin of the scouts". Had we entered the Land from
the ideal direction, we would not have followed Avraham's footsteps (which
ended in the exile of Ya'akov), rather, we would have reversed them, moving
first to Hevron and then north, conquering (at least) to Sh'khem. In other
words, had we come in from the south, we would have reversed the patriarchal
footsteps and, effectively, wiped out the pattern of exile from the national
As a result of our weakness in the desert, we had to continue the patterns
established by our forefathers, patterns which ultimately led us down to
Egypt and into exile.
What does any of this have to do with the children of Lot?
THE SIN IN THE DESERT:
CHOOSING LOT OVER AVRAHAM
Why did the people react with so much fear to the report of the scouts? It
seems that their faith in God was overcome by the very real
- albeit slanted - reports of giants, oversized fruit and numerous enemies.
In other words, they followed what they saw over what they knew (or should
This reminds us of an earlier "poor choice" of this type. When Avraham and
Lot returned together from Egypt, enriched by Pharaoh, their shepherds
quarreled - thus necessitating a separation between uncle and nephew.
Avraham gave Lot the choice of where to live:
Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Yarden was well watered
everywhere like the garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt, in the
direction of Tzo'ar; this was before Hashem had destroyed S'dom and Amorrah.
So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed
eastward; thus they separated from each other. Avram settled in the land of
K'na'an, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent
as far as S'dom. (B'resheet 13:10-12)
In other words, Lot liked - and missed - Egypt! Now that he was back in
K'na'an, at least he was able to find a "little bit of Hutz la'Aretz" - and
that's where he chose to settle (the folly of his choice is foreshadowed in
the next verse: Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against
How does life in Egypt differ from life in Eretz K'na'an? The Torah
describes it quite clearly:
For the land that you are about to enter to occupy is not like the land of
Egypt, from which you have come, where you sow your seed and irrigate by
foot like a vegetable garden. But the land that you are crossing over to
occupy is a land of hills and valleys, watered by rain from the sky, a land
that Hashem your God looks after. The eyes of Hashem your God are always on
it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (D'varim 11:10-12)
In other words, in Egypt, all of life's needs are present and accessible to
the naked eye. The Land of Israel, on the other hand, is a land which
depends on God's blessing and constant supervision - as expressed through
rain (or drought).
Lot chose a "little piece of Egypt" because he preferred the lush plain
where the waters could be seen over the hill country where faith is man's
constant companion - and where dependence on God is part of daily reality.
This is exactly how the people reacted to the report of the scouts:
And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole
congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or
would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is Hashem bringing us into
this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become
booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" So they said to
one another, "Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt." (Bamidbar 14:2-4)
The people rejected their Avrahamic legacy of faith in the Unseen in favor
of a Lotian favoring of the world of the senses. As a result, they needed to
wander until they entered the Land from the "old" direction, continuing in
the steps of their wandering Aramean fathers
(see D'varim 26:5). Since they were still "Lotians" in their approach,
however, they had no moral standing to conquer the lands where Lot's
children lived - hence God's restriction on going to battle against Ammon
and Mo'av. This also explains the awkward wording - for I have given Ar to
the children of Lot.It is unseemly for you to conquer Lotian territory if
you, yourselves, maintain the perspectives of that cast-off nephew.
We now understand one other anomaly. Since the "hill country" of the
Amorites has been, from time immemorial, the critical foothold of any
military conquest of the Land, why did Yehoshua place so much emphasis on
the conquest of Yericho, which sits in a low plain, well below sea level?
The description of the reconnaissance and destruction of Yericho bears out
some interesting facts:
Two agents came into the city to pave the way for its destruction; Only one
household took them in - the head of that household having a "shady" sexual
history; That householder (and family) were spared the utter destruction of
the town - which took place in a miraculous fashion; The town is one of only
two to be referred to as Kikkar (plain - see D'varim 34:3).
In case this description does not yet sound familiar, note that the other
town in all of T'nakh to be called Kikkar is - S'dom!
Before B'nei Yisra'el could begin their conquest of the core, hill country
of Avraham, they had to extirpate their Lotian tendencies, by effecting a
second destruction, as it were, of the city of S'dom.
POSTSCRIPT: THE RETURN OF RUTH
As a result of our favoring the approach of Lot, we not only had our
entrance to the Land delayed by one generation; we not only had to enter in
the footsteps of our ancestors instead of erasing them; we not only had to
redestroy S'dom before beginning our own conquest - but the conquest of
Yerushalayim and the building of the Beit HaMikdash was delayed by over four
hundred years! Is it any wonder, then, that it took the return of a daughter
of Lot (Ruth), who was nearly a female version of Avraham (see our shiurim
on Megillat Ruth) to bring the child into the world who would finally
complete that task? David, indeed, was the antidote to Lotianism - but the
cycles of mourning were already planted into our national destiny, such that
even that great building which he helped to found would not stand forever.
On Tish'ah b'Av we not only weep for the destroyed Mikdash - we also weep
for our historic inability to live up to the standards of faith set by our
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.