This Parsha begins the last of the Five Books of The Torah, Sefer Devarim. This Book is also called Mishneh Torah, "Repetition of the Torah" (hence the Greek/English title Deuteronomy). Sefer Devarim relates what Moshe told Bnei Yisrael during the last five weeks of his life, as they prepared to cross the Jordan into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe reviews the mitzvot, stressing the change of lifestyle they are about to undergo: from the supernatural existence of the desert under Moshes guidance to the apparently natural life they will experience under Yehoshuas leadership in the Land.
The central theme this week is the sin of the spies, the meraglim. The Parsha opens with Moshe alluding to the sins of the previous generation who died in the desert. He describes what would have happened if they hadnt sinned by sending spies into Eretz Yisrael. Hashem would have given them without a fight all the land from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, including the lands of Ammon, Moav and Edom. He details the subtle sins that culminate in the sin of the spies, and reviews at length this incident and its results. The entire generation would die in the desert; Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. He reminds them that their immediate reaction to Hashems decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin. He recounts how they wouldnt listen when he told them not to go, that they no longer merited vanquishing their enemies miraculously. They ignored him and suffered a massive defeat. They were not allowed to fight with the kingdoms of Esav, Moav or Ammon these lands were not to be part of the map of Eretz Yisrael in the meantime. When the conquest of Canaan will begin with Sichon and Og, it will be via natural warfare.
This is the People of
“How can I carry alone?” (1:12)
Sometimes I sit down to write things that I know people will enjoy: a heart-warming tale, a wry take on our brief walk in this world. And sometimes I sit down to write something that I know people will find hard to take but nevertheless needs to be said. This is one of the latter.
Soon we commemorate the blackest day of the Jewish calendar, the Ninth of Av. The Ninth of Av has been a day of tragedy for the Jewish People since the Exodus from Egypt. In more recent times it was in the early hours of July 23, 1942, on Tisha B'Av, that the first train transport of deportees left Malkinia in Poland. The train was made up of sixty closed cars, crowded with Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. The car doors were locked from the outside and the air apertures were barred with barbed wire. That was the day the killings started at Treblinka.
In Auschwitz, there was, of all things, a small chapel. The chapel had a priest whose job it was to attend to the needs of the camp staff. Day after day, he watched as train after train after train disgorged its human cargo. Day after day after day his eyes lifted to the smoke wafting from the ovens, all that was left of a million lives, a million mothers’ and fathers’ goodnight kisses, a million broken birthday toys, a million pairs of bewildered frightened eyes staring lifeless into eternity.
Day after day after day.
One day, the priest walked into his chapel and went up to the cross. He picked up the cross and slowly, with his bare hands, tore it piece by piece into splinters. He smashed it until nothing remained of it, saying over and over again, "This is the people of
The priest realized that he was witnessing something that defied belief, something that went far beyond the bounds of natural hatred and cruelty. He was witnessing something that could only be called supernatural.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. There was unimaginable hunger in the Land of Israel. One day, he came upon a young girl picking out undigested barley from amongst the dung of an animal owned by Arabs, the only food she could find. This girl was the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion, one of the richest men in the world. Rabbi Yochanan started to cry, "How happy are you, Israel! When you fulfill the will of
Why the Jewish People should be happy that no nation rules over them is self-evident, but why they should be happy sifting dung to survive demands explanation.
The Rashba tells us that there are two kinds of miracles, a miracle for the good and a miracle for the bad (from our perspective). A miracle isn’t just where someone is saved at the eleventh hour. It isn’t just someone throwing away his crutches after a lifetime of being a cripple. A miracle is clear evidence of
When natural disaster strikes, when there is an earthquake or a flood, or a building collapses without reason, it means that
When the daughter of the most affluent is reduced to foraging in excrement, when the world’s most civilized nation suddenly turns into a wild monster without any rational reason, we have clear evidence of the supernatural at work.
This is the source of our strength and our survival. This is the greatest reason to be happy. Even in the darkest times, when we see miracles, even when they are miracles for the bad, we know that
- Midrash Eicha Rabbah 1
- Tractate Ketubot 64b
- Based on Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz and Rabbi Elya Lopian in Lev Eliahu