Devarim/Tisha B’Av – Lessons From The “Emorim”

Sefer Devarim, Parshas Devarim, Mishneh Torah.  With this week’s keriyas ha’Torah, we open up the fifth book of Chumash, as we journey – along with the Bnei Yisrael – through the final days of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life.  The book of Devarim is moving, poetic, heartfelt, emotional and evocative, as Moshe exhorts the people to cling to G-d and choose a life of Torah and mitzvos. 

This week’s parsha, Parshas Devarim, is always read the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av.   While many reasons for the juxtaposition of Devarim to Tisha B’Av are given, one of the most obvious reasons is that in this parsha, Moshe recalls the sin of the spies, Cheit Ha’Meraglim (see Bamidbar 13 for when the event actually occurred, thirty-eight years prior to Parshas Devarim).   

En route to the Land of Israel, the nation approached Moshe and asked him to send scouts to spy out the Land; וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי, כֻּלְּכֶם, וַתֹּאמְרוּ נִשְׁלְחָה אֲנָשִׁים לְפָנֵינוּ, וְיַחְפְּרוּ-לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וְיָשִׁבוּ אֹתָנוּ, דָּבָר–אֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה-בָּהּ, וְאֵת הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר נָבֹא אֲלֵיהֶן – And you all approached me, and said, “Let us send men ahead of us and let them spy out the Land, and bring word back to us: the road on which we should ascend and the cities to which we should come;  וַיִּיטַב בְּעֵינַי, הַדָּבָר וָאֶקַּח מִכֶּם שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֲנָשִׁים, אִישׁ אֶחָד לַשָּׁבֶט – and the matter was good in my eyes, so I took from you twelve men, one man for each tribe (Devarim 1:22-23). 

However, instead of seeing the good in the Land, and returning with a glowing report of a wonderful and hospitable land flowing with milk and honey, ten of the spies bring back a negative and evil report, and successfully turn the hearts of the entire nation against G-d and the Land: The Land consumes its inhabitants, there are giants in the Land, the people are burying the dead, the fruits are enormous and Amalek – our arch enemy! – lives in the South!

וַתִּשָּׂא֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה וַֽיִּתְּנ֖וּ אֶת־קוֹלָ֑ם וַיִּבְכּ֥וּ הָעָ֖ם בַּלַּ֥יְלָה הַהֽוּא – and the entire assembly lifted up, and gave forth their voice, and the nation cried on that night (Bamidbar 14:1).  In regard to this night of crying, the Sages teach (Sotah 35a):

ותשא כל העדה ויתנו את קולם ויבכו … אותו היום [ערב] תשעה באב היה אמר הקב”ה הן בכו בכיה של חנם ואני אקבע להם בכיה לדורות

And the entire assembly lifted up, and gave forth their voice: the day the spies returned from scouting out the Land was erev Tisha B’Av (8 Av).  [Hence, the night they sat to cry was the night of 9 Av].  The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: They cried for no reason, I will establish a crying for them for generations

As a result of this first crying, on leil Tisha B’Av, millennia later, we are condemned to cry and mourn on this fateful day of tragedy and calamity.  As we perpetuate many of the sins of the past, Rachmana Letz’lan, we too are guilty of churban Beis HaMikdash.  As the Sages teach: כל דר שלא בנה בימיו כאילו נחרב בימיו, any generation which does not see the Temple rebuilt, it’s as if that generation destroyed it in their days (Yeushalmi, Yoma 1:1).

What was the sin of the spies?  They saw the bad in the Land, and lacked faith in G-d, but the expression of the sin was the slander, the lashon harah, they spoke, both about Eretz Yisrael and the RS”O, keviyachol.  וַתֵּרָגְנוּ בְאָהֳלֵיכֶם, וַתֹּאמְרוּ, בְּשִׂנְאַת ה’ אֹתָנוּ, הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם–לָתֵת אֹתָנוּ בְּיַד הָאֱמֹרִי, לְהַשְׁמִידֵנוּ – And you slandered, spoke lashon harah, in your tents, and you said: Because of G-d’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hands of the Emorim to destroy us (Devarim 1:27 with Rashi, וַתֵּרָגְנוּ).

It is interesting to consider the final words of the verse, לָתֵת אֹתָנוּ בְּיַד הָאֱמֹרִי, לְהַשְׁמִידֵנוּ, to deliver us into the hands of the Emorim to destroy us.  Why specifically does the Torah single out the Emorim, that the people claim would destroy them?  We are told that there are seven Canaanite nations inhabiting the Land that we must drive out: Because Hashem your G-d will bring you to the Land… וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי–שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ, and He will cast many nations away from before you… seven nations greater and mightier than you (Devarim 7:1). 

Why, when the sin of lashon harah that the nation spoke vis-a-vis the Land and the RS”O, is recounted in the Torah, does the pasuk specify the אֱמֹרִי, out of all the seven Canaanite nations?

Perhaps the answer lies in the root, the shoresh, of אֱמֹרִי.  The shoresh is אמר, to say, to speak.  The Torah is teaching us that with sins of speech, with lashon harah – amirah that is negative, poisonous, slanderous – we will ultimately fall and fail; as did dor ha’midbar, as did the people in the time of Bayis Rishon (Yoma 9b), as well as the Jewish commonwealth during Bayis Sheni (ibid).

Let us interpret this verse again, with this insight in mind:  וַתֵּרָגְנוּ בְאָהֳלֵיכֶם, וַתֹּאמְרוּ, בְּשִׂנְאַת ה’ אֹתָנוּ, הוֹצִיאָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם–לָתֵת אֹתָנוּ בְּיַד הָאֱמֹרִי, לְהַשְׁמִידֵנוּ, – and you spoke slander in your tents, saying: because of Hashem’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us בְּיַד הָאֱמֹרִי, לְהַשְׁמִידֵנוּ, into the hands of the spoken (evil) word, which will ultimately bring destruction upon us

Perhaps, if we want to reverse the process of churban and galus, and change our destiny into one of binyan and geula, we would do well to remember – and learn from! – the slander of the spies, as we read this coming Shabbos.  If slanderous speech banished us from the Land time and again, perhaps it is positive speech – towards our fellow Jews, our beloved Land, and the RS”O – that will bring us all back home once again.  May we merit it speedily and in our days, amen.

ברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


  • Deborah Klein
    Posted at 14:34h, 28 July

    Hello Michal,
    I was wondering where I can find the source for one of your beautiful comments regarding the use of the word” Emorim”, when the Meraglim complained , telling Hashem that He hated them and that was why He took them out of Mitzrayim to deliver them into the hands of the Emorim. That the answer to what their sin was lies in the root word of Emor= say, speak and we learn from there that with sins of speech , with loshon hara,amirah that is negative, slanderous, will cause us to fall and fail. Where can I find this? I’d like to pass it on but need the source.
    Thank you so much for your incredibly informative divrai Torah!
    Debbie Klein

    • Michal Horowitz
      Posted at 22:06h, 28 July

      Hi Debbie, thanks for reaching out! I am grateful that last week’s dvar torah was appreciated! Unfortunately, I do not have a source for that insight… it was a machshava (thought) I had on the pasukim… If there would have been a source, it would have been quoted in the dvar Torah post! Kol tuv.