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Torah Attitude: Parashas Devarim: The silver lining


The book of Devarim contains the final goodbye of Moses to the Jewish people. Moses reproofs the Jewish people for their mistakes. It was not like Moses to blame others. Losing Moses was like a body losing its head. The Jewish people appeared to make little effort to plead with G'd to allow Moses to lead them into the land of Israel. G'd got angry with him "because of them" has two interpretations. The cries and pleas of the Jewish people for no reason were on the 9th of Av, the most tragic date in the Jewish calendar. G'd let his anger out on the "wood and the stones" of the Temple rather than on the Jewish people. Mashiach is born on the 9th of Av. The roots of redemption lie in the destruction itself. The more we appreciate and trust G'd's words, the closer we will be to the Final Redemption.

Moses says goodbye

The book of Devarim, the fifth of the five books of Moses, is also called Mishne Torah because it is a repetition of the Torah. This book contains Moses' final goodbye to the Jewish people. As we read in last week's portion, G'd had told Moses that after the war with the Midianites, his time had come to leave this world. The Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel but Moses could not go with them because of the flaw in his conduct when he hit the rock.

Blame the Jews

In this speech, Moses reproofs the Jewish people for their mistakes in the past. He follows in the footsteps of Jacob who also gave reproof to his children before he passed away. When Moses discusses how he was prohibited from entering the land, it sounds like he is blaming the Jewish people. Moses says, "G'd got angry at me because of you [the Jewish people]" (see Devarim 1:37 and 3:26).

Not like Moses

This was not like Moses. He was the humblest man of all time. If anything, Moses would introspect on his own behaviour before trying to blame others (see Torah Attitude, Parashas Va'eira: From Blame to Fame). Furthermore, when King David speaks about the events in the desert, he also says that "the Jews made G'd angry at the waters of strife and Moses suffered because of them" (Tehillim 106:32). On the other hand, G'd clearly told Moses that he had made a mistake, so how can the Jewish people be blamed? What is the real message?

A body losing its head

When Moses was denied entry into the land of Israel, this was not only a loss for him; it was a tremendous loss for the Jewish people. Moses was the greatest leader of the Jewish people of all times and was instrumental in making us a nation. Losing Moses was like a body losing its head.

The national mistake

When Moses blames the Jewish people for his being prohibited from entering Israel, he is not addressing his personal situation as an individual; he is addressing the Jewish people as a nation. He is speaking about their flaw at the Waters of Strife when they had no patience to wait for Moses to find the right rock to speak to. After Moses made his mistake, he prayed for G'd's forgiveness so he would be able to enter the land of Israel. Our Sages tell us that Moses prayed 515 prayers until G'd told him to stop (515 is the numerical value of the word "Va'eschanan", next week's Torah portion). Moses knew the power of prayer. Several times when the Jews made mistakes and sinned against G'd, Moses, as their advocate, saved them with his prayers. For some reason, the Jewish people overlooked their ability to call a prayer meeting. On a national scale, they appeared to make little effort to plead with G'd to allow Moses to lead them into the land of Israel.

Two interpretations

We may ask, why did the Jews overlook the obvious? Why did they do nothing to preserve Moses as their leader? And why did G'd not intervene? Or did He? By looking a little closer we find the answer in the very same verse that we quoted earlier. When Moses told the Jews that G'd got angry with him "because of them", this can be understood in two ways. It could mean that they caused and made G'd angry. It could also mean that in order to benefit them, G'd got angry. When words in the Torah have two interpretations, we can rest assured that both of them apply.

The 9th of Av

In his speech, Moses refers to the evil report of the spies (Devarim 1:22-40). In the middle of this he mentions the sin at the Waters of Strife (Ibid. 1:37). Why are these two events put together? What do they have in common? The Or Ha'Chaim explains that the night the spies came back with their report, the Jewish people cried out, questioning why G'd is taking them to the land of Israel. Their cries and pleas were not warranted. The Talmud relates that since they cried for no reason, from then on there would be reasons to cry on that night (Ta'anis 29a). It was the night of Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av.

National mourning

The 9th of Av has become the most tragic date in the Jewish calendar. This was the very same day that the first and second Temples were destroyed; the great City of Betar was destroyed; the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492; the first shot of Saragossa brought in the era of the world wars, and so much havoc on the Jewish People, an era of horrible tragedy that yet has to end.

Song of Asaf

Our Sages tell us that if Moses had entered the land of Israel and built the Temple in Jerusalem, it would have been established for eternity. However, if the Jews would not have been living up to the high standards expected of them, the destruction, G'd forbid, would have been on the people and not on the country and the Temple. When Asaf bemoans the destruction of the Temple, he calls it, "a song of Asaf". He continues, "The nations have entered into Your inheritance, they have defiled the Sanctuary of Your holiness, they have turned Jerusalem into heaps of rubble" (Tehillim 79). Our sages ask the obvious question, "How is this an expression of song?" Should it not say "a lamentation of Asaf"?

High standards

The answer is that it is a song, because rather than destroying the Jewish people, G'd let his anger out on the "wood and the stones" of the Temple. Says the Or Ha'Chaim, had Moses come into the land and built the Temple, then the Jewish people would have been destroyed by their sins. That is why Moses refers to the sin of the spies together with his prohibition from entering the land of Israel. As far as the Jewish people were concerned, they lost the merit of having Moses lead them into the land as far back as the incident of the spies. Their lack of trust in G'd and his Word, their lack of appreciation of the goodness of the land of Israel, showed that they were not worthy or able to maintain the high standards of living in the land of Israel.

Punishment and benefit

The destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews is directly connected to the negative report of the spies, as it says, "And they despised the desirable land, they had no faith in His Word ... Then He lifted up His Hand ... to throw them down in the wilderness. And to throw down their descendants among the peoples and to scatter them among the lands (Tehillim 106:24). This may be why the Jews were not inspired to pray for Moses when G'd forbid him to lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel. And this is what Moses is telling them, "Now, because of you, meaning you caused it at the time of the spies. When you cried for no reason you lost the merit of having me as leader bring you into the land of Israel". The Jewish people are being punished. However, at the same time, Moses is telling them: "Because of you", meaning for your benefit, "so that you should be saved and your existence be preserved, I cannot enter the land of Israel".

The silver lining

On Tisha B'Av, when we lament the destruction of the Temple and all the other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish nation, we see G'd's hidden Hand directing and guiding us. We see the rays of His mercy and infinite love as the silver lining in the middle of the darkness and destruction that have plagued the Jewish people for so many years. Our sages tell us that Mashiach is born on Tisha B'Av. The roots of the Redemption lie in the destruction itself. As we say in our daily prayers, G'd "causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout" (Artscroll Siddur, p.101, Shemona Esrei). From death, G'd restores life and brings salvation.

Final redemption

Reflecting on the causes of destruction, the crying in vain in the desert from lack of appreciation of the land of Israel, and lack of trust in the G'd of Israel, brings an awareness that the more we appreciate and trust G'd's words, the closer we will be to the Final Redemption when Mashiach will be joined by Moses and bring all Jews back to restore the glory of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel