By Rabbi Aron Tendler
For The Very First Time
This week's Parsha begins a few week's before the end of Moshe's life. He
recounts his beseeching G-d to reconsider the decree against his entering
Eretz Yisroel. Moshe's argument to G-d was, "I have just begun to see Your
greatness and now I am to die? Please allow me to cross over the Yarden and
see Eretz Yisroel. "
The seventh Ani Maamin states, " I believe with perfect faith that the
prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu (the Torah) is absolutely true. He was the chief
of all prophets, both before and after him."
The Torah confirmed that Moshe was, "exceedingly humble, more so than anyone
As the "chief of all the prophets" Moshe's knowledge of G-d's actuality, and
his understanding of G-d's judiciousness was unequaled. Therefore, what did
Moshe mean when he said, "I have just begun to see Your greatness?" It could
not have been Moshe's humility because humility does not involve denial of
personal attainment or accomplishment. Humility involves absolute awareness
and acceptance of personal greatness without feeling superior to anyone else
because of it. What did Moshe mean?
What did Moshe mean when he said, "to see your greatness?" G-d's greatness is
His infinite power, justice and wisdom revealed through the study of Torah
and the passage of time. In most instances, it is only through the
retrospective mirror of history that we gain insight into G-d's infinity.
This retrospective is not limited to historical events. It applies equally to
the performance of Mitzvos and understanding our individual and collective
missions. The wisdom and knowledge gained in one day of living Torah and
Mitzvos is the foundation for the next day's intent and performance.
We are told, "Every day Torah and Mitzvos should be as new." "As new" means,
as if we had never done the Mitzvah or studied that part of the Torah. This
is possible if we accept the infinite nature of G-d and His commandments.
Through the study of Torah our understanding of each Mitzvah and G-d's
intention in commanding us is expanded. With the study of Torah our
comprehension of G-d's intent is only limited by our mortality. Therefore,
the knowledge gained yesterday through Torah study and experience makes us
realize that what we thought was the performance of a Mitzvah was a mere
glimmer of G-d's real intention.
Imagine, we say Shema three times every day. Is it possible for each new day
to be a brand "new" experience? Shema is our thrice-daily acceptance of G-d's
primacy, our dependency, and our obligation to do as He commands. If every
day our understanding of G-d increases through the study of Torah and the
performance of Mitzvos, we should realize that what we thought we accepted
with yesterday's Shema was less than what our newfound insight and
understanding now dictates. What we thought we were accepting as G-d's
primacy and intent was but a glimmer of His true intent! Therefore, the next
morning when we say the Shema it will be as if we are saying it for the first
time. It will be "as if it was new."
On Tisha B'Av we read about the Ten Martyrs who were murdered by the Romans
during the time of the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash. Among them
was Rebbi Chutzpis Hamiturgamun. The commentaries explained that he was
killed one day before his 130th birthday. The author of the Kina -
lamentation states that the Romans refused his final request to live till his
130th birthday and be allowed to say the Shema one more time.
The request, although touching, does not seem to be so important. He had
already said the Shema for almost 130 years. What more did he hope to
accomplish with saying it "one more time?" However, based upon the adage,
"Every day, Torah and Mitzvos should be as new," we understand R' Chutzpis's
request. He was not asking to say the Shema "one more time," he was begging
to say it for the very first time!
Moshe Rabbeinu's plea was, "I have just begun to see Your greatness and now I
am to die? Please allow me to cross the Yarden and enter Eretz Yisroel." The
greatest of all prophets, the one most knowledgeable of G-d's intent, knew
that each day brought new revelations that altered his perception of G-d's
Torah. Therefore, his greatest desire was to be able to live on so he could
serve G-d with the knowledge and understanding of each subsequent day.
15TH OF AV: THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE YEAR
The last Mishneh in Taanis states that the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur are
equally joyous occasions. The forgiveness received on Yom Kippur and the
annually renewed closeness with G-d are cause for great celebration. The
15th of Av is equally a time of historic atonement, intimacy, and
celebration. The Talmud explains the six events that give this day its
1. As explained in previous editions, the above 20, male, generation of the
Exodus died out in the desert during the 40 years of wandering. Every Tisha
B'Av, 15,000 men, (of the total 600,000) would die. On the last Tisha B'av
in the year 2488, the remaining 15,000 dug their graves; however in the
morning none had died! Figuring that they must have made a mistake in the
calendar, they continued to dig their graves every night until the 15th. Upon
seeing the full moon they realized that G-d had rescinded the decree for the
remaining 15,000! A day of forgiveness and celebration was proclaimed. (37
x 15,000 = 555,000 + 14,700 + 250 by Korach + 15,000 Deut.1:44 = 599,000)
2 & 3. In the times of the Shoftim - Judges, under the rule of Othniel, a
terrible civil war broke out between the tribe of Binyamin and the rest of
the nation. (approx. 2573-1188 b.c.e.) The tribe of Binyamin was decimated
and a decree was issued forbidding any further marriage with the men of
Binyamin. This would have resulted in the eventual destruction of the entire
tribe. Additionally, women who inherited their father's ancestral properties
were forbidden to marry outside of their tribes. Some time later, on the
15th of Av, both decrees were lifted, allowing for all marriages between the
tribes, and guaranteeing the survival of the tribe of Binyamin. The Mishna
teaches that the 15th of Av was devoted to shidduchim, marriages, and the
rebuilding of relationships.
4. Following the death of King Solomon, the nation was divided. Israel, was
led by the evil Yeravam ben Nevat. Three years after taking the throne, he
erected two golden calves in the North and South of Israel, and prohibited
his people from visiting the Beis Hamikdash. Checkpoints and other forms of
restraint were instituted to discourage going to the Temple and to encourage
serving the "golden calves". On the 15th of Av, around 3187-574 b.c.e.,
under the King Hoshea b. Elah, the decree was lifted and all of Israel was
again able to go to the Beis Hamikdash.
5. "Yom Tabar Maagal - The Day of the breaking of the Axes." In the 2nd
Temple, wood was scarce after the land had been unattended during the 70 year
exile. Therefore, wood was very precious and expensive. To guarantee that
the Mizbeach would always have sufficient wood, donations were given by the
wealthiest families, exclusively for the Alter. The wood had to be
completely dry to guarantee that there wouldn't be any worms. The cut off
date to bring the wood into the Temple for the coming year was the 15th of
Av. That was the day when the "axes could be broken" and it was a day of
enormous joy and rejoicing knowing that the sacrifices could be brought for
the coming year.
6. 52 years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, Bar Kochba lead an
uprising against the Romans. He was so successful that some considered him
to be the Mashiach. His rebellion ended on Tisha B'Av after a 3 year siege
against Betar, and he died along with 580,000 others. To disgrace and
demoralize the people, the "fallen of Betar" were not permitted by the Roman
authorities to be buried. Instead, they were stacked as a human fence around
the vineyards of the governor, Adrianus. (approx. 12 mile perimeter) For
almost 11 years, until Emperor Hadrian's death, the bodies miraculously
remained intact without decomposing. On the 15th of Av, permission was
granted to bury the martyred of Betar. This miracle was cause for
celebration. In fact, the fourth blessing of the Birkas Hamazon (Grace After
Meals) Hatov V'Hamaytiv - G-d Who is good and Who does good) was authored by
the rabbis of that generation to commemorate this great miracle. This was
ordained to remember the special love that G-d displayed in not allowing the
martyrs of Betar to decompose before burial.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.