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Torah Attitude: Parashas Devarim, Shabbos Chazon - Tisha B'Av: The silver lining
The book of Devarim contains the final speech of Moses to the Jewish people. Moses reproofs the Jewish people for their mistakes. It was not like Moses to blame others. The loss of Moses for the Jewish people 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 are to the Final Redemption.
Moses says goodbye
The book of Devarim, the fifth of the five books of Moses, is also called Mishneh Torah which means a repetition of the Torah. This book contains Moses' final speech 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.
In his speech, Moses reproofs the Jewish people for their mistakes in the past. In this way he followed in the footsteps of Jacob who also reproved his children before he passed away. When Moses discusses how he was prohibited from entering the land he says, "G'd got angry at me because of you [the Jewish people]" (see Devarim 1:37 and 3:26).
Not like Moses
It sounds like Moses is blaming the Jewish people. This is 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 seems to blame the Jewish people as he says (Tehillim 106:32): "The Jews made G'd angry at the waters of strife and Moses suffered because of them". On the other hand, G'd clearly told Moses that he had made a mistake, so how can the Jewish people be blamed?
A body losing its head
In order to understand this we must realize that 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 entire 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. 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. This is hinted to in next week's Torah portion which starts with the word "Va'Eschanan" which has the numerical value of 515. Moses knew the power of prayer. Several times when the Jews made mistakes and sinned, Moses acted as their advocate and 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.
The obvious question is, how could the Jews overlook such a simple thing? Why did they not do anything to preserve Moses as their leader? And why did G'd not intervene? Or did He? If we analyze this a little closer we may 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 G'd got angry in order to benefit them. 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 seems to juxtapose two different events. In the middle of his discussion of the evil report of the spies (Devarim 1:22-40) 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 HaChaim explains that the night the spies came back with their report, the Jewish people cried out, questioning why G'd was taking them to the land of Israel. Their cries and pleas were not warranted. The Talmud (Ta'anis 29a) relates that G'd decreed that since they cried for no reason, from then on there would be reasons to cry on that night. This was the night of Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av.
The 9th of Av has become the most tragic date in the Jewish calendar. It was this very same day that the first and second Temples were destroyed and the great City of Betar was wiped out. In 1942 the Jews were expelled from Spain on this day, and it was also the day the first shot of Saragossa brought in the era of the world wars with 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 the potential to be established for eternity. However, if the Jews did not live up to the high standards expected of them, the destruction, G'd forbid, would have been on the people, rather than 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 how can such calamities be expressed as a song? Would it not be more appropriate to call it "a lamentation of Asaf"?
They answer that it is referred to as 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 HaChaim, 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 forever.
Punishment and benefit
The destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews are directly connected to the negative report of the spies, as King David says (Tehillim 106:24): "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." This may be why G'd did not let the Jews be 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 in his rebuke. When he said "because of you" it means "you yourself caused it at the time of the spies. When you cried for no reason you lost the merit of having me as a leader to bring you into the land of Israel". This is a punishment for the Jewish people. 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 itself G'd restores life and brings salvation.
As a first step we must reflect on the initial causes of destruction and how our ancestors cried in vain in the desert out of lack of appreciation for the land of Israel, and lack of trust in the G'd of Israel. If we internalize this it brings us an awareness how we should strengthen ourselves in these areas. And 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.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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