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Devarim

By Rabbi Aron Tendler

It was the first day of Shevat, 2488. Moshe was almost 120 years old, and the forty years in the desert were almost over. The opening verses of Sefer Divarim describe the exact geographical location of what was to be Moshe's final discourse and instructions to the Bnai Yisroel. As Rav S.R. Hirsch explains: "With Moshe's death, all of his physical personality will depart. Only a description, recorded in the most precise terms possible, of the place where the people had heard the last of his faithful words, will be handed down to posterity so that, if some day a late descendent of the Children of Israel will come to this place, it may perhaps echo for him these words and inspire him to follow them faithfully in the midst, and for the good, of his people.

Moshe's final words were to prepare the Jews for their transition from their miraculous existence in the desert to a more traditional existence in the Eretz Yisroel. While in the desert their existence was maintained by the revealed hand of G-d supplying food from heaven, water from rocks, and the continuous protection and security of His cloud cover. Once they crossed over the Jordan, the nation would begin to interface with the land and have to support themselves through the hidden hand of G-d. Aqueducts would have to be built, cisterns would have to be dug, fields would have to be planted, and permanent homes would be needed to provide them with protection and security from the natural elements. Moshe, in Sefer Divarim, would forewarn the Jews of the dangers of assimilation, intermarriage, and idol worship. He would direct them to be vigilant in attending to the education and development of their children. He would review with them those laws that were unique to the land itself; (e.g. cities of refuge) those laws that were essential for the development of a Torah society and government; (e.g. Tzedaka and appointing a king) and those laws that could not have been fulfilled in their entirety while living in the desert, but required the land itself for their full observance. (E.g. Pesach, Succoth, and Shevuot.)

The opening discourse is a historical review of the major events that had transpired since the giving of the Torah: The development of a judicial system; the incident with the Spies and the 40 year decree; their encounter with the descendents of Eisav, Moav, and Ammon. Starting with before Shishi, (2:26) Moshe spent a considerable amount of time describing their victory over Sichon the king of Emori and Og the king of Bashan. Moshe went so far as to describe the exact size of Og's bed. "...his bed was made of iron. It is in the Ammorite city of Rabbah, nine standard cubits long and four cubits high". (3:11) Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes from the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 2:47 that, "The bed was thus 13.5' x 6'. Since a bed is usually one third longer than the person, this would indicate that Og was some six cubits or nine feet tall." Granted, Og was a giant of a fellow and would have been a first draft pick in the NBA, however, we must wonder at the seeming fascination that Moshe and the Torah exhibited in Og the king of Bashan. Why are these trivial facts of any consequence or concern?

Og was the quintessential survivor. According to the Medresh, he had survived the Mabul (making him at least 830 years old), survived the war of the four kings against the five, survived another 400 years of history, and eventually became the king over the land of Bashan.

What would be the psycho-theological profile of an individual whose life seemed to defy mortality? On the one hand we might expect such a person to develop a deep passion to understand the meaning of existence, justice, and truth, and to conclude that there is a Creator (like Yisro). On the other hand, the same experience of survival and immortality could confirm the very absence of a G-d who directs His universe on the basis of truth and justice. Such a person could conclude with a belief in personal divinity, practicing and demanding self-worship.

The pre-diluvian generation believed in their own immortality, and opposed the manifest dominion of G-d in nature and in society. Therefore, might made right, and the strongest survived as gods. They were the antithesis of the generation of the desert that had witnessed G-d's total dominion over all forces in the universe. In the generation and post-generation of the Exodus, acceptance of G-d and the teaching of total subjugation to His will were to be the new-world order. The individual and society were only as strong and enduring as the closeness of their relationship with G-d. Human might was less than relevant, and all strength and success were to be attributed to G-d.

Og was the last remnant of the Mabul generation, and was determined to counter the message and influences of the Jews. He could have chosen to join the Chosen People as an ally and partner. As a first-hand witness to the history of the world he could have been numbered among humanities great teachers. (such as Shem and Ever) Instead, he opposed the Jews, and had to be destroyed. It made perfect sense that Moshe Rabbeinu, "the most humble of all men," would personally eliminate the arrogance and defiance of the likes of Og. It was a clash of titans doing battle for the soul of humanity. That is why the Torah describes in such detail the physicality of Og and his destruction. Moshe's work wasn't complete until he had washed away the remaining influences of the pre-diluvian world.

Laws of Tisha B'Av and Erev Tisha B'Av

This year, Tisha B'Av is Saturday, August 1. Because we do not fast on Shabbos (except for Yom Kippur) the actual fast is "pushed off" to Sunday, August 2nd. Due to this, many of the laws of Erev Tisha B'Av do not apply this year, and certain lieniencies are applicable to the fast itself. Shabbos is Shabbos. Just as a mourner does not display mourning on Shabbos, neither do we display mourning for the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore, we do not have a Seudat Hamafseket - the dividing meal and wine and meat may be served for Shalosh Seudos. Note: all eating must end by sundown on Saturday! Some authorities forbid learning Torah after midday, except for those topics permitted to be learned on Tisha B'Av; however, many others permit it.

On Tisha B'Av we are prohibited from wearing leather shoes. On Shabbos we are prohibited from doing anything that constitutes mourning, such as wearing non-leather when we normally would wear leather. This presents the dilemma as to when to change shoes for Tisha B'Av? The recommended practice is to bring non leather to Shul on Friday, and immediately following the Barachu at Maariv take off the leather and slip into the non leather. Only the Chazan takes off his shoes before Barachu. Havdallah only consists of "Borei Morei Haesh - the blessing over the flame", and is said after Maariv, before Eicha. After the fast, Sunday night, Havdallah over a cup of wine will be said, without fire or Bisamim - spices.

Tisha B'Av, like Yom Kippur, is a 24+ hour fast, with additional restrictions. Eating, drinking, wearing leather shoes (referring to leather construction such as the soles or uppers, not leather strips or ornamentation), washing any part of the body, marital relations, and the use of moisturizing creams, lotions, or oils are prohibited. The prohibition against bodily washing is directed toward pleasure, not necessity. However, on Tisha B'Av the halachik a criterion for necessity is actual dirt. Washing one's face first thing in the morning is therefore categorized as pleasure and is prohibited. Netilas Yadayim first thing in the morning is accomplished by washing the fingers till the knuckles. Women do not go to Mikveh on Tisha B'av night, and all preparations for Sunday night are to be done, either Sunday night or Friday.

The distinction between Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av is in the reason for the restrictions. On Yom Kippur, which is a serious but not a sad day, we project an elevated sense of sanctity and purpose that renders physical pleasure and sustenance irrelevant. On Tisha B'Av, which is both a serious and a mournful day, we project a sense of loss and mourning that renders physical concerns as unimportant. Therefore, on Tisha B'Av we have the following additional customs that reflect our status as mourners:
1. Until 1:00 p.m. we sit on the floor or a low stool (not higher than 12").
2. Like an Avel - mourner, we should not greet each other all of Tisha B'av.
3. It is forbidden to learn Torah all day except for those topics relating to the laws of mourning or the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
4. One should not go to work on Tisha B'Av, and it is not to be used as a day to catch up on housework or repairs.
5. Tallis and Tefillin are first worn at Mincha, and Tzitzit should be worn, but without a Bracha.

Tisha B'Av - Historic Review and Comment

The Mishna in Taanis teaches that 5 tragedies befell the Jewish people on Tisha B'Av:
1) 2449-1314 b.c.e. The spies returned with their demoralizing report, and the generation that left Egypt was decreed to die out in the desert.
2) 3338 - 423 b.c.e. The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
3) 3828 - 68 c.e. The second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed.
4) 3880 - 120 c.e. The fall of Betar and the tragic conclusion of Bar Kochba's revolt.
5) Sometime after the destruction of the 2nd Beis Hamikdash, the Temple Mount was plowed over like a field.

Additionally, numerous tragedies have their ignoble anniversaries on Tisha B'Av (e.g. expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492).

It all began in the desert with the Miraglim - Spies. The verse says, "...that night the People wept." (Bamid. 14:1) The Talmud in Taanis (29) teaches that it was the night of Tisha B'Av, and that G-d declared, "Tonight you cried without reason, in the future you and your children will have cause to cry and mourn." The Medresh describes what Tisha B'Av was like during the years spent "wandering" in the desert.

"On the eve of the 9th of Av, a public proclamation would summon all the men who were 20 and older at the time of the Exodus to go into the desert and dig their own graves. That night, all the men would lay down in their graves and in the morning a public proclamation of, "Let the living separate themselves from the dead!" would summon the living from their graves. Every year, 15,000 of the 600,000 destined to die would not rise. This routine was followed every year for 37 years.

It's impossible for us to truly understand the mental and spiritual psychology of the Dor Hamidbar - the Generation of the Desert. We often ask why G-d does not perform overt miracles as a way of convincing the doubters. In truth, I doubt we could handle it. Miracles don't occur in a vacuum. Miracles are the consequence of a heightened awareness and belief in Hashem. To have miracles without the expectations of change in every aspect of our lives is to deny the reason for miracles. The Bnai Yisroel were exposed to G- d as no other generation would ever experience. From Exodus to Revelation; from Manna to protective clouds; from immediate reward to immediate punishment; the people were expected to grow from awareness to: acceptance, belief, performance, and total change - or else suffer the consequences. Clearly, this proved to be very difficult as the numerous incidents recorded in the Torah teach us. It took 40 long years for the People to adjust to the ever present awareness of a G-d who "dwells in their midst". It makes sense to first spend the time learning about G-d and confronting His expectations before having to deal with His revealed power and majesty. It's similar to the process of conversion that in essence is a moment of personal revelation. We first educate the potential convert before imposing the obligations of Torah and Mitzvot. Imagine what it would take to live at a time when the absolute quality of justice is a daily occurrence. You sinned, you are punished. How many of us could handle such a relationship? So often I've heard, "If Hashem would only do a miracle, I would become a believer". Is that so? Are we prepared to change in the aftermath of the miracle? Are we ready to live a life of G-dly awareness and its attendant responsibilities?

These are the questions that the 9th of Av should awaken. A life of sanctity has many rewards. Purpose, focus, family, community, and eternity to name a few. However, they come at the price of awareness and commitment. To have a Bais Hamikdash is to live a life that can maintain a Bais Hamikdash with a G-d "who lives in our midst". May it be our will to live a life that allows for G-d to manifest Himself in our midst!

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.

 






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