Torah Weekly

For the week ending 25 July 2020 / 4 Av 5780

Parshat Devarim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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This Torah portion begins the last of the Five Books of The Torah, SeferDevarim. This Book is also called Mishneh Torah, "Repetition of the Torah" (hence the Greek/English title “Deuteronomy”). Sefer Devarim relates what Moshe told the Jewish People during the last five weeks of his life, as they prepared to cross the Jordan into the Land of Israel. Moshe reviews the mitzvahs, stressing the change of lifestyle they are about to undergo — from the supernatural existence of the desert under Moshe’s guidance, to the apparently natural life they will experience under Yehoshua’s 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 had not 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. Moshe 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 and Moshe would not enter Eretz Yisrael. He reminds them that their immediate reaction to Hashem’s decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin. He recounts how they would not listen when he told them not to go, and that they no longer merited vanquishing their enemies miraculously. They had 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.


Walk, Don’t Run

“These are the words…” (1:1)

After years of inactivity, my trusty Martin Acoustic Guitar emerged from its not-so-plush-anymore, lined case, its vintage attested to by the fading stickers saying “Pan Am Airways” and the like on the outside of the case. Decades of inactivity had rendered my finger-picking into finger-plodding, but I plowed on. Someone sent me a video of a world-renowned Australian guitar teacher, and one of his ideas resounded with me as a lesson for life. He was absolutely insistent that when you begin to learn a tune, you should play it at an absurdly slow pace — but you couldn’t makeeven one mistake. If you made a mistake, you had to go back and play the piece even slower, until you reached a tempo at which your brain was playing faster than your fingers and your performance was flawless. Only then were you allowed to speed up ever-so-slowly.

The message I took from this was that in life — specifically, in our spiritual lives — it’s all too easy to try to run before we can walk, and we end up being able to do neither. Practice make perfect, but if you practice your mistakes, you will also make them “perfect.” You will inculcate your mistakes to the point where you will have to unlearn vast misplayed sonatas of your life. And un-learning is much, much harder than learning.

This week we begin the reading of the Book of Devarim, which literally means “words.”

The captivity of the Jewish People in Egypt was more than just physical bondage. On a deeper level, Egypt represents the enslavement of the power of speech, the music of the soul. Egypt not only enslaved the bodies of the Jewish People, it put in chains the major weapon of the Jewish People — speech. Thus, the Torah writes that the Jewish People “cried out” to G-d. It doesn’t write that they“prayed.” For in Egypt, speech itself was bound. In Hebrew, the word for desert is midbar, which is from the root-word mi’dibur — “from speech.” The emptiness of the desert is the ideal place for the rebuilding of the power of speech. Every year, as we emerge from the reading of the Book of Bamidbar to the Book of Devarim, we have the ability to relearn the “notes” of our “song” to Hashem, our relationship with Him, our emuna and trust in Him — by learning to play that tune again very slowly. But learning to play it right.


Question: On Tisha B'Av morning, everyone sits on the floor as a sign of mourning. However, one person in the synagogue publicly sits down on a chair. Who is this person?

Answer: The person honored with hagbah — lifting the Torah after it is read. This person lifts the Torah from the bima and sits in a chair. Then the Torah is bound and covered, and the person remains seated until the Torah is returned to the Holy Ark.

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