Parshios Devarim & Tisha B'Av
In last week’s Parsha the tribes of Reuven and Gad asked permission to
settle in the trans-Jordan lands of Sichon and Og. Moshe acquiesced on
condition that they become the point guard in the campaign to occupy the
Promised Land. Additionally, Moshe insisted that ½ of the tribe of Menashe
join them in settling the trans-Jordan lands.
In last week’s Rabbi’s Notebook I explained why Moshe insisted that the
tribe of Menashe join the venture; however, I did not explain what was
driving Gad and Reuven to make the request. What were their real motives
for wanting to live apart from the rest of the Jewish people? What were
their real motives for wanting to be further from Jerusalem and the Bais
Hamikdash (holy temple)? What were their real motives for wanting to live
closer to the other nations? What were their real motives for wanting to
be the first line of defense protecting Israel’s eastern border?
It is true that they had large cattle holdings and the trans-Jordan lands
would provide ample pasture for their herds; however, that was the
rationalization not the real motive. What were their real motives?
Rav Dessler explained that free willed beings must always battle the bias
they have in favor of things physical and desired. No matter how
spiritually evolved a person might be, he or she will still be physically
bound to their existence. From birth to death the physical connection is a
reality that cannot be denied. It can be controlled and sublimated; it can
be modified and restricted; it can be avoided and subjugated; however, it
can never be eradicated. Only death can sever the innate bond between the
body and soul, the physical and the spiritual. Even the greatest Tzadik
(righteous individual) will retain what Rav Dessler calls “the shadow” of
his physicality. That shadow is a reality that must be never be ignored or
taken for granted.
What “shadow” possessed the tribes of Reuven and Gad motivating their
request to settle the lands of Sichon and Og? Furthermore, in what way did
their commitment to lead the Jewish forces into battle offset Moshe’s
concerns for their spiritual and physical safety?
Gad was a tribe of warriors and Reuven was a tribe that should have been
Gad was blessed by Yakov that they would lead the Jewish people in the
campaign to capture the Promised Land and that all their men would return
home safely. (Ber. Rashi 49:19) Reuven was the first-born of Yakov who
should have been king but wasn’t. Yakov criticized his impetuousness while
Moshe blessed his acceptance. For a variety of reasons it became clear
that Reuven was not the best qualified to be king; instead, Yehuda and
Yoseph each rose to that position. Yehuda (starting with King David)
eventually became king of Israel forging the national government and
building the Bais Hamikdash. Yoseph, on the other hand, was king when
interfacing with the non-Jewish world in the environment of the non-Jewish
world for the benefit and survival of the nation. Rather than resent
Yoseph for his dreams of royalty or Yehuda for his divinely appointed
destiny, Reuven accepted that he would merely be “numbered among the
Jewish people.” (Divarim 33:6)
I would like to suggest that the otherwise intended leadership of Reuven
and the gifted fighting ability of Gad were the “shadowed motives” for
their request to occupy the captured lands of Sichon and Og.
Gad was a tribe of gifted warriors; disciplined, courageous, able, and
willing; however, more so than all those essential qualities, they were
one of the tribes of the Bnai Yisroel. Gad, like all his brothers and the
tribes they birthed, were first and foremost servants of G-d. They
believed in His primacy and the absolute control He maintained over the
In Uz Yashir (Song at the Sea) we sing, “G-d is the Man of War?” Everyone
is familiar with the adage, “There are no atheist in fox-holes.” In many
regards, that may be among the truest statements ever made. Soldiers, old
and young alike, have told me that in war everyone knows that G-d walks
the battlefield. So many near misses and “almosts” occur that it is
impossible to explain why this one died and that one lived. The finger of
G-d points and the hand of G-d protects; nevertheless, the best armies
must still train their men to produce the finest warriors.
Training is the effort we put forth within the context of our absolute
faith and dependency on the “Man of War.” Therein lays the “shadow” of
Gad’s secret motivation. It is very difficult to work at becoming the best
and not take credit for the outcome. “My strength and the power of my
efforts accomplished all this!” Gad’s challenge was to see beyond the
successes of war and acknowledge that it was all done by the grace of G-d.
The lands of Og and Sichon were symbolic as well as practical, especially
the lands of Og. Rashi explained in last week’s Parsha and in Bereshis
that Og was a survivor of the Mabul (Great Flood). Og was 1000 plus years
old and was prediluvian. He was the sole survivor of the Rephaim, an
ancient pre-Mabul race of giants, and most likely the oldest living human.
Og thought of himself as invincible, all-powerful, and immortal. In many
regards he was the ultimate practitioner of “My strength and the power of
my efforts accomplished all this!” Having witnessed and survived the
destruction of the world, the war between the five and four kings, and
countless other conflicts, Og believed he would live forever. Witness to
the evolution and demise of innumerable religions and lifestyles, he was
unpleasantly surprised to see the return of monotheism and the Jewish
nation. Until they arrived at the borders of his land he believed that
Judaism would also go the way of the world ? rise, fall, and if remembered
as a historical footnote. Instead, he had to contend with it being alive
and well and knocking at his front door!
The death of Og by the hands of Moshe Rabbeinu established in the minds of
all, including the Jews, that Hashem was truly “the Man Of War.” By all
natural accounts Og should have killed Moshe; instead, like Dovid and
Goliath, Og was destroyed and the primacy of Hashem was established.
In the minds of Gad, occupying the lands of Og had a very special meaning.
As they built their homes and farms, everyone would know that the demise
of Og represented the death of his philosophy. However, in the depths of
their heart, the tribe of Gad was actually attracted to Og’s way of
thinking. It was that slight shadow of self-assurance and righteous
determination that Moshe suspected, questioned, and then challenged.
Reuven’s shadowed motivation was different. As the one who did not become
King, Reuven exhibited laudable restraint and acceptance. He did not
complain and he did not appear resentful; yet, in the depths of his heart
he mourned the loss of his kingship. Upon arriving at the borders of the
Promised Land Reuven realized that he wanted to be different and apart
from the rest of the nation. He wanted the chance to justify the order of
Please understand that it is not for us to determine motives for the deeds
of our forefathers. The generation that occupied the Promised Land merited
doing so because they were the most deserving. By comparison, our levels
of Emunah (belief) and Bitachon (trust) are but the faintest shadow of the
profundity and depth of their faith. Yet, every mortal must acknowledge
his own shadow. I believe that Gad and Reuven had theirs as well.
At the end of this week’s Parsha, (3:16-22) Moshe sums up his succinct
history of the desert years by charging Yehoshua to remember that it was G-
d Who had vanquished the great kings Sichon and Og. Recounting the deal he
had made with the two tribes of Reuven and Gad, Moshe reminded the nation
that all of them would be confronted by the same shadowed challenge as had
Reuven and Gad. Only by assuming the point position and leading the army
into battle would Gad and Reuven see the folly of their true motives.
Forced into the most dangerous and vulnerable position in each battle the
great warriors of Gad and the determined leaders of Reuven would have to
face their own shadows. To whom would they attribute the promised
victories? Would they allow the shadow of self-congratulations and
arrogance to mar the proof of G-d’s mastery or would they dispel all
shadows as they went to battle singing the praises of Hashem and His
absolute mastery over all things?
(3:22) “You shall not fear them! G-d shall wage war for you!”
Laws of Erev Tisha B-Av & Tisha B'Av
This year, Erev Tisha B-Av is Monday, July 26. Erev Tisha B'Av is no
different than the rest of the Nine Days except in regard to preparing for
the fast and the Seudas Hamafsekes (the dividing meal).
1. The accepted custom is to eat a large meal after Mincha in
preparation for the fast. It is different from Erev Yom Kippur when there
is a mitzvah to eat. On Erev Tisha B-Av there is no mitzvah to eat. In
fact the Halacha suggests that a person who is able to fast on Tisha B'Av
without eating a lot on Erev Tisha B'Av should do so.
2. After Mincha, before sunset, the Seudas Hamafsekes is eaten.
This consists of a piece of bread, a cold hard-boiled egg, with the bread
dipped in ashes. The meal is eaten while sitting on the floor, and three
men should not sit together so that they avoid the need for making a
Zimun. If three men do sit together they still do not make a Zimun.
Regular shoes can be worn during this symbolic meal.
3. After the Seudah Hamafsekes it is advisable to verbally say, "I
do not accept the fast upon myself until sunset".
4. Keep in mind that all the laws of Tisha B-Av take effect at
sunset. Before sunset all eating and drinking must stop and leather shoes
must be removed.
5. Some Halachik authorities forbid learning Torah after midday on
Erev Tisha B'Av, except for those topics permitted to be studied on Tisha
B-Av; however, many others permit it.
Tisha B'Av, like Yom Kippur, is a 24+ hour fast, with additional
The following are prohibited: 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. Anti-
perspirant and medicinal ointments for rashes and irritations are allowed.
The prohibition against bodily washing is directed toward pleasure, not
necessity. However, on Tisha B'Av the Halachik criterion for necessity is
actual dirt. Therefore, washing one's face first thing in the morning is
categorized as pleasure, and is prohibited.
Netilas Yadayim is performed by washing your fingers up until the
knuckles. Women do not go to Mikvah on Tisha B'Av night, and it is
recommended that all preparations for going to the Mikvah Thursday night,
be done on Wednesday, Erev Tisha B'Av.
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 concern 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
2. Like an Avel (mourner), we should not greet each other the
entire day 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; however, if you feel
that you must go to work, it is best do so after midday - 1:00 p.m. Tisha
B'Av 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 put on in the morning without a Bracha.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.