Today is March 23, 2023 -

Bet Israel Masorti Synagogue

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19 Yehuda Hanasi St., POB 437, Netanya 4210300, Israel
Phone: 972-(0)9-862-4345

Parshat Devarim Tisha BAv 2020

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Why does parshat Devarim coincide with Tisha B’Av every year? Aside from the sentence with the word eicha (how) in the parsha, and in the haftarah and in the scroll of Eicha, is there any connection?

The book of Devarim marks a transition in terms of leadership, locale and modus operandi. For forty years, the people have lived in the desert under Moshe’s leadership. Above Moshe was God, giving the commands, answering the questions, and more importantly, from the people’s point of view, providing them with everyday necessities like food (the manna) and water (from rocks and magic wells). Even their shoes, we will read later, did not wear out during 40 years of trekking in the desert! This was a magical existence, a bubble, completely outside the mundane drudgery of routine living as we know it 鈥 having to work for sustenance, having to deal with bosses and government agencies and banks and all the hundreds of little annoyances of everyday living.

This was going to end. The people were going to have to forage for food, eke out a living. They were going to have to face the local populace who did not want them there. They were going to have to set up all the paraphernalia of local and federal government. They were going to have to face real life.

For this type of life, Moshe was not the most suitable person. He operated well as the mediator between God and the people, but a more open organization was not in his playbook.

Moshe realized that. He also realized that with God withdrawing from overt daily contact with the people, the chances of their backsliding were more than possible. They were inevitable. Even in the desert, with God right there, the people had been easy prey for any idol worshipper they happened to meet. How much more so in Canaan!

And this, perhaps, is the connection between Devarim and Tisha B’Av. From the dire warnings to the people in this and the coming few parshot, Moshe foresees how the people will act, and how their actions will almost inevitably lead to disaster. He knows that this last reiteration of warnings he’s given time and again will probably be forgotten, but he has no choice. He must make that one effort. If it saves one soul 鈥 he has done something of value.

It’s as though he’s saying, “I know you’ve heard all this before, but now it’s money time, the real thing. You’re going to have to put into practice all the things I’ve been telling you. And that is when you will face the most important tests. Will you keep your belief in the God who took care of you but whom you can’t see now?

The first and most important message to remember is justice. Justice for all. We should understand that the foundations that Moshe is implanting now are essential for the continued existence of the Israelites on the land. Between the lines we see the abyss we will fall into if we fail to follow the laws 鈥 between man and man.

Professor Assa Kasher finds another message in the parsha, something that is also relevant today. He refers to the instructions to the Israelites not to antagonize or go to war with three of the nations they were passing 鈥 the Edomites of Esau, the Moabites who were from Lot, and the Amonites, who were also from Lot.

This, says Kasher, goes against the fighting tendencies of the time. Control yourselves. These people are relations 鈥 distant, but related. The time for war will come 鈥 but it is not now.

Humanity towards everyone in your country, and restraint when restraint is required are two of the messages that were not heeded during the generations leading up to the destruction of the two Temples. I don’t want to draw parallels to events closer to home, but somehow, we as a people have to realize that without boundaries on our behavior, at all levels, from the top to the bottom, and without humanity towards all, we could be like the Zamzumim who once occupied the land of the Amonites. People who were there, until they weren’t any more.

These are the messages of Devarim for our days, and for Tisha B’Av.

May we as a people be wise enough to get our act together, both in terms of human relations in the country and in terms of restraint where restraint is to our benefit, especially in these turbulent times.

Shabbat Shalom


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