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.
Order In The Court!
“And these are the words…” (1:1)
This week's Torah portion always comes immediately before the fast of Tisha B'Av.
Our Sages tell us that the Second Holy Temple was destroyed by baseless hatred. Baseless hatred sounds like a contradiction in terms. If someone wrongs you then the hatred is not baseless, and if he hasn't wronged you, then why should you hate him?
Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred — is 'based' on a fundamental misconception about this world.
G-d places each of us on our own individual 'rail track'. What is designated for me is mine and no one in the world can touch it. And the same for you. It's like two express trains on their own tracks. They can come so close to each other, but they are totally separate one from the other.
Baseless hatred results from thinking that what other people have could really be mine if they weren't around — "You're driving my car! You're married to my wife!
You're breathing MY AIR!"
Baseless hatred begins with seeing the world as a supermarket of my own desires; that I'm here to take.
Something happened to me the other day that brought this idea of taking into sharp focus.
Last week I came into my classroom and sitting there on the table was the equivalent of the 'apple for the teacher' — a box, about six inches long, wrapped up in red and gold paper with a little card on the outside: "To Rebbe."
I'm sure my face lit up with a smile as I saw the gift, and judging from the smile on the face of one of my students, I realized who had placed it there.
"Thank you so much! That's so nice of you. I really appreciate your appreciation," I said.
I picked up the box. Not too heavy, not too light. I rattled it around to try and guess what it might be.
And then I put it back down on the table.
The student who had given it to me was a bit disappointed, "Rebbe, aren't you going to open it?"
"Yes. But not now."
"But Rebbe," protested my student, "You've GOT to open it!"
"I will" I insisted, "but later."
I once read a story about Rabbi Eliahu Dessler, the author of "Strive for Truth," who received a letter from his wife during the war. Because of the hostilities, they had been separated for a very long time, and this was the first letter he had received from her with pictures of their daughter whom he had last seen as a girl and had now grown to be a young woman. Nevertheless, he placed the letter on the mantle and left it there for a full ten minutes before granting himself the pleasure of looking at the photographs. Rabbi Dessler was exercising the character trait of controlling one’s desires; for once one is controlled by his desires, a person's negative drive has him in the palm of his hand.
The reason I left the box on the table, however, was not because I was working on my self-control.
But maybe it was something else that I learned from Rabbi Dessler.
Giving is infinitely better than taking.
When you give something, the gift is merely the vehicle for the feeling; the physical object is really just a way of giving a piece of yourself.
Taking is always about the object itself. How many times have you opened up a present and lied through your teeth when you said, "Oh it's just what I wanted!" Of course it was just what you didn't want. What you really wanted was the new iPad; not this crummy MP4.
I left my student's gift on the table for a long time so I could enjoy the spiritual message of the gift before the inevitable physical reality of it spoiled my appreciation.
"Go on Rebbe, open it!"
"Do you mind if I take it home unopened? I want to show it to my wife."
My wife had as much pleasure from that unopened present as I had.
In the end I finally opened it.
And what was in it?
A judge's gavel.
Let's put it this way: I have a 'lively' bunch of pupils and this particular one thought I could do with a little help to keep 'order in the court.'