Torah Weekly - Parshat Devarim
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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 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 hadn't 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 Hashem's decree was to want to "go up and fight" to redress the sin; he recounts how they wouldn't 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.
IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN
"These are the words" (1:1)
One Shabbat not long ago, as I was standing in synagogue, my five-year old son came over to me. We had reached the part of the service where the Kohanim ascend the steps in front of the Holy Ark, cover their heads and arms with their prayer shawls and bless the congregation. The Kohanim have been blessing the people like this for over three thousand years. I covered my own head with my prayer shawl and I felt a light tug from outside. "Daddy, can I come under your tallit?" whispered a young voice.
I brought my son under my tallit, and as the priests were blessing us, our eyes met. I thought, G-d willing, one day my son will be standing in my place, and he too will be looking down into his son's face.
Sometimes you feel like a link in a chain that stretches back across the millennia. Sometimes you understand what tradition really means.
Tradition doesn't mean bagels and lox. Tradition doesn't mean chicken soup and kneidlach. Tradition means passing down the heritage of our fathers intact to our children. Tradition means "My father told me that his father told him that his father told him...that G-d gave us the Torah at Sinai."
The Jewish People believe in G-d, not because the odds that the universe just "happened" out of some primordial "soup" are gastronomically impossible. The Jewish People believe in G-d not because some missionary landed on our shores and told us some fable that happened away in a manger. The Jewish People believe in G-d not because some whirling Dervish told us to convert or die (a very persuasive theological argument). The Jewish People believe in G-d because we are the great, great, great...grandchildren of those same Jews who stood at Sinai and saw and heard G-d speak to them.
We believe in G-d because we hold it axiomatic that parents don't lie to their children about things which it is important for the children to know - and G-d speaking to an entire nation and making them the chosen instrument of His world-plan certainly qualifies as something important for one's children to know.
This week we begin the synagogue reading of the fifth book of the Torah - Devarim or Deuteronomy. The Greek title is apt. It means repetition. In the last five weeks of his life, Moshe repeated the entire Torah - and the entire history of the Jewish People.
Nothing in the Torah is superfluous. Maybe Moshe's intent was to symbolize that the lifeblood of Judaism is the repetition of the parents to the children. For it is this repetition which has carried Judaism across the millennia in an unbroken chain down to a little boy looking up into his father's face under a tallit one Shabbat morning more than 3300 years later.
This, the final haftara of "Three of Affliction" trilogy, is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha B'av.
The ninth of Av wasn't always a day of tragedy. During the days of the Second Temple, it was turned into a day of great joy at the celebration of rebuilding the Beit Hamikdash. When the Second Temple was destroyed, Tisha B'Av reverted to its former sadness.
Every generation in which the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, it is as though we ourselves destroyed it. The Prophet Yeshaya laments not for the Temple's destruction, but rather for those evils that caused its destruction. For it is not enough for us to bemoan what was. We must realize that it is within our power to bring the Redemption. We must use this time of national mourning to analyze our mistakes and correct them.
It's up to us.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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