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