Devarim ~ Embracing the transformation of structures | Adath Israel

Shabbat Devarim ~ Shabbat Hazon

Devarim begins a long day for Moshe – it is his last day. He decides to spend it talking to the people in three different speeches, or so it seems.

Moshe opens with reviewing the events and telling the people to keep the Torah and observe its commandments. He recalls the appointment of judges, the journey through Sinai, the sending of the spies and the subsequent debacle. “God was also also against me,” says Moshe, “because of you and said: You, too, shall not go in there.”

Our triennial picks there, reviewing the kingdoms which Israel is not supposed to attack, just pass through in their way to the promised land. It also mentions the kings Sichon and Og, who did not let the people pass, began a war and lost that war. Their lands are then settled by the tribes of Reuben and Gad and part of the tribe of Manasseh.

~ Our triennial focuses on the review of the the kingdoms which Israel is not supposed to attack and the victories with Sichon and Og.

~ Why is it important for Moshe to review the events before having the people go into the land?

~ Why remind these people of the peoples they were not supposed to engage in battle while walking towards the Promised Land?

~ Why do you think this portion is always read before Tisha Be Av?


You can see all sources by clicking here: Source sheet for Tisha BeAv.

In the entire reading of Devarim, two words keep showing up – the translation does not give them the credit they need. “To turn” and “to go.”

This portion is always read before the 9th of Av.

Devarim has Moshe facing the Israelites precisely back on the same moment that led to the 40 years of wandering. Will now the people repeat the mistake of the past? Or will they actually do teshuvah, and in this last day of Moshe’s life, embrace the going up to the land?

The review is the beginning of the process of teshuvah of the people, at that moment – a process that Moshe will not see. He can only see the beginnings of it – the conquering of the lands of Sichon and Og, something so fabulous that we get them mentioned in the psalm we sing, Ps 136. Moshe sees the glimmers, and also knows the danger – we can’t call the process real until it is actually happening. Thinking that the land outside is as good as the land inside is a danger.

As is thinking that we do not have to do teshuvah, collectively or individually.

Tisha be Av marks the beginning of our process of teshuvah. The rabbis talk about many causes for the destruction of the Temple – the most famous is the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, that illustrates sinat chinam. [see Eicha Rabbah 4:3]

Sinat Chinam is an interesting phrase. It is commonly translated as baseless hatred or wanton hatred. But Chinam can mean free. Sinat chinam might be also translated as free-for-all hatred, and this certainly is possible given what the rabbis tell was one of the problems during the siege: the lack of compromise. [Gittin 56a-b]

But Sinat chinam can also mean the impression that hatred has no cost, meaning, it’s free. Which I wish I could say we don’t have nowadays, but I would be lying.

But the rabbis will have a laundry list of reasons why the temple was destroyed – people didn’t say the Shema, they didn’t let kids study, they had no respect for each other, there was no rebuke, people didn’t observe shabbat, people did not try to compromise, there was too much judgment and not enough justice.

Now – why would the rabbis do that? It is really not clear that the rabbis had anything to do with the temple service, despite what Bar Kamtza claims. And if you ask any historian, they will say – nothing of the sort mattered. Rome was invincible, they wanted, they took, there was no stopping their war machine.

But that, for the rabbis, does not matter – what matters is looking inward at the time of the breaking of structures, and finding rebuilding, rebirth, from there. We could even say that if the temple wasn’t destroyed, Judaism would not be what it is today. It is only because of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai that we have an spiritual center in Torah. And that means that in a day like Tisha BeAv we check in with ourselves about those destructive forces. As a community, so the community can continue. As a people, so the people can go on to the next generation. We have to embrace the forces of renewal of structures, because otherwise they crumble – and then our renewal is stunted by trauma, the work becomes that much bigger.

We begin now, seven weeks before RH/YK to prepare for that moment. We begin collectively so as to refine ourselves individually seven weeks from now. That is why Devarim has so many turn and go. We need to do teshuvah and begin walking – now.

May we all have a meaningful fast tomorrow.

Shabbat shalom.