A Day for a Year
“Yom la’shana tis’ue es avonosaychem arbaim shanah – a day for a year
shall you bear [the consequences of] your sins; for forty years.”
Hashem informed Moshe and Aharon of the dire consequences that face the
B’nei Yisroel for their lack of faith in Hashem’s ability to lead them
into Eretz Yisroel. When they heard the unflattering report of the
meraglim (spies), they collectively grieved on the ninth day of Av. As a
result of their ‘needless mourning’ on Tishah B’Av, this date would
forever be designated for tragic and tear-filled events.
For the next forty years; one year for every day that the spies spent in
Eretz Yisroel, all male Jews who reached the age of sixty years would die
on Tishah B’Av. Additionally, until the coming of Moshiach, the ninth of
Av would be designated for observing the tragic events in our history,
among them the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
The Kli Yakar asks two interesting questions on the term ‘Yom La’shanah’
(a day for a year).
To begin with, should it not say ‘Shana La’yom’ instead of ‘Yom Lashanah?’
After all, the punishment was one year [of additional time spent in the
desert] for each day [that the meraglim spent in Eretz Yisroel]. Therefore
the appropriate phrase should be that they were punished with one year for
each day, not visa versa?
Additionally, does it not seem overly harsh to punish the Jews in such a
harsh and disproportionate ratio – one full year for each day?
A DILUTION OF THE DECREE
The Kli Yakar explains that the focus of the Yom La’shana terminology was
the moderate implementation of the decree that the Jews would all perish
in the desert. Firstly, the deaths would not occur all at once, but would
rather be spread over forty years. Additionally, Jews would not die each
day in the midbar, but rather the deaths would all occur on one day only –
Viewed through this prism, the term ‘Yom La’shanah’ now becomes
representative of Hashem’s mercy – limiting the deaths to one day per
year, and then spreading them over forty years.
A CONTINUATION OF THE THEME OF THE PREVIOUS WEEK
I would like to suggest that the ‘Yom La’shanah’ gezeirah (decree) that
all adult Jews would die in the desert might possibly be congruent with
the theme we addressed in these lines last week, when we discussed the
term ‘misonenim’ (complainers) in last week’s parsha.
A QUICK REVIEW
Last week, we proposed that the term “Vayehi ha’om kemisonenim” (Bamidbar
11:1) was used to denote the fact that the nation was similar to mourners –
on the opposite side of the spectrum. Just as a mourner is in a state of
shock by the sudden death of a loved one, so too, the Jews in the desert
were stunned by their meteoric rise from penniless slaves to a prosperous
group of noble men and women who were given the sacred mission of becoming
Hashem’s Chosen People. (An onen is one who is in shock over the death of
a relative. He or she has not had the time to properly process this
information and deal with the event that has just occurred. That is one of
the reasons that halacha relieves the onen from the performance of any
mitzvos during this short period of emotional overload.)
We suggested that the Torah began the tragic chapter of the complaints of
the Jews to Moshe with an introductory and explanatory note. It mentions
that the B’nei Yisroel were overwhelmed by their dizzying spiritual and
material blessings and may not have been able to adjust properly to their
new reality – not unlike some lottery winners whose lives disintegrate
despite their great fortune. This was due to the fact that it was too much
We noted that the B’nei Yisroel were severely punished for their
complaints and for their lack of gratitude to Moshe. But, as a loving
Father, Hashem may have pointed out a possible defense for His children by
explaining that they were ‘k’misonenim’ – like people who were adjusting
rapidly to a new reality.
A POSSIBLE UNDERSTANDING OF ‘YOM LA’SHANAH’
I would like to suggest that the decree that the adult males of the B’nei
Yisroel not enter Eretz Yisroel and die in the midbar might have been a
reflection of this reality. The first generation of Jews who were so
recently freed from poverty and enslavement could not acclimate so quickly
to their newfound spiritual and material wealth. It was up to their
children to slowly adjust to their new roles as a mamleches kohanim v’goi
kadosh – as revealed to them at Har Sinai.
Looking at things in this light, the passing of the first generation in
the midbar was an incidental consequence of not being allowed to enter
Eretz Yisroel. Their passing was of (seemingly) natural causes, not
because of excessive heat, starvation or thirst. They died peacefully
surrounded by the ananei hakavod (the Heavenly clouds), and in the
presence of their families.
FORTY YEARS – TIME TO UNDERSTAND
Chazal (our sages) teach us that it often takes forty years for a talmid
to fully understand the teachings of his rebbi (see Avos 5:21, Avodah Zara
5b). This does not reflect on a lack of intellect on the part of the
talmid. It means that when we are focused on ‘the here and now’ we cannot
always see the wisdom and the far-reaching vision of our rebbeim.
Additionally some teachings take nearly a lifetime to fully understand –
and absorb. (The great tzaddik Reb Yisroel Salanter z’tl often said that
one needs to study mussar (ethics) for seventy years in order to properly
prepare for one moment – those times when our patience and middos tovos
are most tested).
GROWING – OVER TIME
Once the Jews had sinned by complaining to Moshe and by mourning the
unflattering reports of the meraglim, Hashem responded by giving the
Jewish people forty years to fully understand the towering heights that
they would need to reach as a result of accepting the Torah.
Hashem slowly implemented this decree over forty years – Yom La’shanah –
giving the next generation of His children the time to be able to proudly
and confidently enter Eretz Yisroel – and fulfill His sacred mission.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.