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Q&A

Why was Tisha B'av chosen as the day of crying for naught, when the Jews had cried previously?

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ותשא כל העדה ויתנו את קולם ויבכו העם בלילה ההוא (במדבר יד, א) אמר רבה א"ר יוחנן אותו ליל ט' באב היה אמר להן הקב"ה לישראל אתם בכיתם בכיה של חנם ואני אקבע לכם בכיה לדורות (סנהדרין קד:, תענית כט.)‏

"And the entire congregation lifted their voices, and the nation cried on that night" (Numbers 14:1). Rabbah said in the name of R' Yochanan, "That night was the ninth of Av. Hashem said to the Jews, 'You cry a crying for naught; I will establish for you [on this night] a crying for generations.'" (Sanhedrin 104b, Taanit 29a)

The evening following the Spies' return was a night of sorrow for the Jews; they were duped into believing that the Land of Israel was a terrible place, against all the promises that Hashem had made to them about how wondrous it is. Rather than place their faith in Hashem, they placed their faith in gossip, and so they cried. In response, Hashem designated that evening for future generations as one on which Jews would cry: and so we sit on the floor and recite Lamentations every Ninth of Av (may we merit to celebrate it as a holiday in Jerusalem over the arrival of the Messiah speedily in our days).

Yet this incident, tragic as it is, was by no means the first time the Jews' faith in Hashem had wavered. While on most of the previous incidents they merely protested what they saw to be unjust or unfavorable, on one of them they did, in fact, cry.

והאספסף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה וישבו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו מי יאכלנו בשר (במדבר יא:ד)‏

The Mixed Multitude in their midst craved a craving. Then even the Children of Israel sat and wept, and they said, "Who will feed us meat?!" (Numbers 11:4).

There, too, the Jews cried over what they perceived to be Hashem's neglect of His promises toward them. In a way this sin was even worse than that of the Spies: they cried following the Spies' report because they believed Hashem had abandoned them, while they cried following the Mixed Multitude's instigation because they sought an excuse to create conflict (Rashi on Numbers 11.4.3) and because they sought marital relationships which were previously permitted before they accepted the Torah (Yoma 85a.6). Yet in response to the complainers, Hashem did not set that as a day of crying, but instead gave them quail for a month until it came out their noses (Numbers 11:20).

Crying aside, the major, immediate punishment in response to the Spies was the decree of 40 years of wandering in the desert, during which the entire generation would die out (Numbers 14:32-33), while in response to the complainers, Hashem merely gave them quail until they realized how their request was flawed.

The question can be asked in two ways:

  1. What made the sin of the Spies so severe that only it warranted a night designated for crying for millennia to come, and only it warranted a death sentence on that generation?
  2. In what way was the crying following the Spies' report "for naught" worse than the crying of those seeking meat was not "for naught"?
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