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Devarim 5775-2015

“Looking Through the Pain, Toward a Bright Future”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

With this week’s parasha, parashat Devarim, we begin reading the fifth and final book of the Torah, the book of Devarim, also known as Deuteronomy.

As the name “Deuteronomy” suggests, much of the contents of Devarim is a repetition of what is found in previous books of the Torah. Nevertheless, there are still more than 70 laws in the book of Devarim that are entirely new (See Devarim 5765-2005). The book of Devarim is seen by traditional commentators as the “last will and testament” of Moses to Israel, spoken during the final five weeks of his life.

At the core of Moses’ message is the centrality of the covenant that G-d made with the Jewish people at Choreb (Sinai), and the peoples’ obligations that flow from that covenant. Although Moses reiterates themes that he had previously pronounced, he particularly emphasizes the importance and uniqueness of the monotheistic belief in the oneness of G-d, and that the Al-mighty serves as the Master of all.

Because G-d is to be the object of Israel’s love and undivided loyalty, the prohibition against idolatry is frequently repeated, as is the prohibition of engaging in magic and sorcery. In order to confirm Israel’s love for G-d, the people are given basic obligations and a set of meaningful ordinances that they are expected to observe with a whole heart. As a reward for loving and obeying G-d, the people will be exalted above all nations. The uniqueness of Israel is not because they are better or superior to others, but rather that the teachings of the Torah, which is their singular possession, makes the Children of Israel special.

It is for this reason that G-d will protect the people who became His partner in the Covenant at Sinai. If, however, the People of Israel violate their oath of loyalty, the price of perfidy will be great. Heaven and earth will come to testify against Israel for their wanton deeds and faithless actions.

Realizing that he has very little time to convey his message to the Children of Israel before he departs from this world, Moses speaks with much love, and hope for the future. His message is filled with great optimism regarding the fruits that will blossom and abound in the Promised Land, and of the enemies who will fall before Israel in battle.

Nevertheless, Moses strongly warns the children not to follow in the wanton footsteps of their stiff-necked parents. He, therefore, recounts the instances where the previous generation, who came out of Egypt, failed the test of loyalty and rebelled against G-d. Moses spoke harshly about the rebels of the previous generation, but to their children, he spoke softly, not wanting to demoralize the new generation.

Moses’ harsh attitude toward the older generation reflects his belief that he has been punished because of the rebelliousness of the People of Israel. He is bitter and bereft and cannot forgive them. Yet he rises to the occasion, to convey a message of hope, redemption and victory to the new generation.

It is this message of hope that is so important to the Jewish people today, especially in light of the ominous “three weeks” period of mourning, which will conclude with the fast of Tisha B’Av on Sunday, July 26, 2015. Moses, who has endured more than forty years of hardship and struggle, who will never himself experience the redemption by entering the land of Israel, and who has every reason to be angry and bitter, nevertheless conveys this inspiring message of hope to the new and future generations of Israel.

As we read and reread the many fateful tragedies that our people have endured, we must become more aware of the many extraordinary moral and ethical victories of the Jewish people. Looking back on the great calamities, we must also be prepared to see the great accomplishments of the Jewish people during their long history and especially the miraculous achievements of the contemporary State of Israel. While we recall the decimation of European Jewry, we must appreciate the dawning of a new day for Torah, Yeshivot and Jewish scholarship in the State of Israel and throughout the world, which is perhaps unparalleled in all the annals of Jewish history.

As we say in the Psalm of the Sabbath day, לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת, At night, we have to hold onto hope through faith, but in the morning we will truly see the loving-kindness of G-d that shines through.

May you be blessed.

Please remember: Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month of Av, was observed on Thursday night, July 16th and all day Friday, July 17th. It marked the beginning of the “Nine Days” a period of intense mourning leading to the fast of Tisha B’Av.

The Shabbat before Tisha B’Av is called “Shabbat Chazon“–the Sabbath on which we read the prophetic vision of Isaiah (Chapter 1) and its foreboding message of impending destruction.

The observance of the fast of Tisha B’Av marking the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples, starts on Saturday night, July 25th and continues through Sunday night, July 26th, 2015. Have a meaningful fast.

The Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is traditionally known as “Shabbat Nachamu,” in deference to the first of a series of seven Haftarot (prophetic messages) of consolation, drawn from the book of Isaiah, and read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana. “Nachamu, nachamu ah’mee,” be comforted My nation, are the opening words of Isaiah 40.