Torah Weekly

For the week ending 21 July 2018 / 9 Av 5778

Parshat Devarim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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.


Words Building Worlds

“These are the words…” (1:1)

Shortly before his marriage a young man went to great Torah scholars. He said that he had something that was weighing heavily on him, something that even the day of his marriage would not atone for. “I grew up in Jerusalem when food was a luxury. Nobody even knew what a banana looked like. One day the rebbe went out of the classroom for a few moments and left a few coins on his shtender. I was hungry and I took the money and put it in my pocket. The rebbe came back and immediately saw that the money was gone. He made the whole class stand in a line facing the wall, and one-by-one he checked our pockets. Quickly I dropped the money into the pocket of the boy who was standing next to me. When it came his turn he couldn’t believe that the money was there and he started to cry. He pleaded with the rebbe and told him that he hadn’t stolen the money, but of course no one believed him. After that he got a name of being a thief, and not too long afterwards he dropped out of the cheder, and gradually he went down until he dropped religious observance completely and became secular. Even though the day a person gets married is a day of atonement for him, how can I ever atone for what I did to that poor boy?”

The Torah sage said, “This reminds me of something that happened to me when I was in cheder. The rebbe also made us all stand in a line facing the wall, but when he found the culprit he didn’t let on, but simply put the money back in his pocket. When he got to the end of the line, he said, ‘Tov! Let us all say together, HashivenuBring us back to you, G-d, and we will return!’ That young boy went on to be one of the great scholars of the generation,” explained the wise Torah scholar.

He continued: “You were not to blame for the other boy's dropping his religion; you were young and hungry. And the fellow himself – G-d will understand what he went through and judge him accordingly. The person I’m concerned about is the rebbe — through a moment’s lack of judgment and sensitivity he ruined someone’s life!”

This year the portion of Devarim falls on the 9th of Av — Tisha B’Av — the day of national disaster. The seminal sin of the spies by speaking ill of the Land of Israel caused the Ninth of Av to be a day set aside for disaster and punishment throughout Jewish history. Ostensibly, it’s difficult to understand why the punishment for the slander of the spies should be so severe, to the extent that the Gemara compares it to the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and immorality. Certainly Beit Din will not execute someone for speaking lashon hara as they would for someone convicted of those three cardinal sins!

The word in Hebrew for a “thing” is davar, which has the same root as dibbur,meaning a “word”. G-d created everything in this world with speech. There are two parts to this creation: yeish m’ayin (ex nihilo) and yeish mi’yeish (bringing forth new existences from the raw material of original creation). Only G-d can create something out of nothing, but man also was given the power to create from what already exists. As the verse states, “My words that I have placed in your mouth.” (Yeshayahu 59:21) This is the reason for the extreme seriousness of negative speech: It literally prevents the world from reaching its perfection. It destroys worlds as surely as it destroys lives.

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