Parshas Devarim


July 27, 2012
8 Av, 5772

Candle-lighting Time: 8:00 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Gordon Friednash, ob”m, who passed away this week. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


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High Stakes

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

This year, as every year, we begin reading the Book of Devarim on the Shabbos immediately preceding the ninth day of the month of Av, the tragic day in the calendar when both our Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. As the Book of Devarim opens, Moshe stands at the end of his life and retells the story of their journey through the desert. He doesn’t even make it nine verses without reminding them of their shortcomings.

He laments, “How can I alone carry your great burden, your demands and your infighting.” The phrase ‘how can I’ in Hebrew is written, eicha, the Hebrew name of the Book of Lamentations, which we read on the ninth of Av. In fact, when we come to this verse in the course of reading Parshas Devarim, it is read in the special cantilation that is particular to Megilas Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. Somewhere in Moshe’s exasperated expression of his frustration in the Jewish People is a deep connection to the tragedies of the ninth of Av.

Moshe struggled with three things. They were a tremendous burden, they were demanding and they fought with one another. No one said being a Jewish leader was easy. If the stereotypes have any basis in fact, we’re a tough bunch of vocal, high-maintenance folks. At times, it was too much even for Moshe. But what really pushed him over the edge?

As we’ve pointed out many times, the word order that the Torah employs is significantly meaningful. In a list of three things, the most significant is always the last. The most difficult thing for Moshe to bear was Jews fighting with other Jews. And as our Sages taught us, the long exile we’re still struggling with was caused by just such hostile and hateful mistreatment of our fellow Jews.

In today’s Jewish world there is plenty of disagreement. Every Jewish group has its own ideas about just how to run things. Get a couple of Jews together and you’re almost guaranteed to have a virulent difference of opinion. How can we ever achieve internal peace?

When the Talmud describes the process of studying Torah, it calls it war. Two scholars on opposite sides of the page, fighting it out. They’re enemies, each one making his point and aggressively attacking his opponent’s point. How is that considered a positive way to relate to another Jew, much less to study Torah?

The Talmud says that when the conversation is over, there is love between them. Their discussion may pit them at each other’s throats, but when the topic is put aside, the war is over. In the end, there is love.

Today, too, there are elements in the Jewish People who have very strongly held, deeply entrenched opinions about the way that things should be done and about what’s right for Israel and for Jews. In my humble opinion, we cannot realistically expect to solve the issues about which we differ. No one is going to roll over and throw in the philosophical towel with the stakes as high as they are. What we can do, however, is to put our differences of opinion aside when the argument is over. At the end of the day, there must be love. And when we’re able to hold each other as dearly as our differing opinions, we’ll have a ninth of Av that’s no longer tragic.


Fooling Ourselves

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Yisro noticed that Moshe was overburdened. The multitudes were approaching Moshe with all types of questions and queries. How much could one man bear? Therefore, the suggestion was made that a comprehensive judicial system should be instituted that would relieve much of the strain that was imposed upon Moshe.

It appears as though Hashem also ‘consented’ to this arrangement. Yet at the beginning of this parsha when he rebukes the nation, Moshe raises this issue as a criticism of the people. How is this possible?

Rashi cites the Midrash that Moshe perceived a tremendous flaw within the nation. If they really wanted to learn Hashem’s Torah, then it would only make sense to hear it directly from Moshe. Although the judges appointed by Moshe were certainly wise and great men, they were definitely not Moshe’s equals. Wouldn’t anyone want to study directly from Moshe if given the opportunity? Moshe realized that the people sought to minimize their direct contact with him. They would rather have heard the words of Torah from his disciples and thereby have the chance to circumvent Moshe’s authority. As strange as it may sound, this was Moshe’s supposition, and apparently he was correct since it is recorded in the Torah as an apt rebuke.

Of course, we smugly feel that we’re different. We would never attempt to skirt our obligations as members of a shul or an organization. However, should we do some soul searching, then we might realize that we are perhaps as guilty as our ancestors were thousands of years ago! It isn’t only the economic responsibilities that we sometimes fail to live up to. The standards and mandates that our Rav or community leaders ask of us are often ignored or rebuffed. We may feel that we know better than they and therefore we have the luxury of deciding what the best course of action for ourselves is. However, that might not be the appropriate choice for the community.

Netziv adds that the people pressured Moshe to follow Yisro’s advice and appoint others to assist him in adjudicating their many complaints and disputes. This further minimized Moshe’s significance and added to his indignity. Even though Moshe ostensibly agreed to accept Yisro’s advice, he may have done so only to please the people. Perhaps he truly felt that if he were the only judge the Torah would be transmitted in a more pristine fashion. This possibility was disregarded by the nation. All this suggests that there was indifference if not contempt for Moshe’s honor and stature. After all that he had sacrificed for them, the least that they could have done was articulate their appreciation in terms of admiration and veneration.

Soon we will sit on the ground and mourn the loss of our holy Batei Mikdash, theTemplesthat housed Hashem’s presence. We will bemoan their loss and cry for their restoration. Before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash, the prophet Jeremiah protested the conduct of the nation, hoping that they would listen to him and repent. Alas, they ignored his pleas and continued to flounder as though he had not spoken. They ridiculed him and soundly rejected his message. Perhaps this should be the thrust of our fasting. Ignoring our past will simply delay our majestic future.


Byte For Shabbos

Although Moshe’s rebuke actually addressed the previous generation who was no longer present, it was incumbent upon the next generation to rectify the mistakes of their predecessors.


A Question for the Rabbis

By Rabbi Mordechai Becher

The Torah commands us to rebuke a fellow Jew who is sinning; however, we are prohibited from rebuking him in public so as not to embarrass him (Leviticus 19:17, Rashi, ad loc). Is it permitted to embarrass someone by our rebuke if it’s done in private? The Torah portion this week begins with a long list of place names, which Rashi explains as being hints to the sins of the Jewish people in the desert. Rashi explains that the reason Moses only hinted at the sins is to save the Jews from embarrassment. Here was a case where everyone was being rebuked together, and all were equally guilty, and yet, Moses was careful to avoid embarrassing them. Similarly, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (Introduction, Be’er Mayim Chaim 14, Chafetz Chaim) rules that the prohibition against embarrassing someone applies even in private. The Zohar (Parshat Kedoshim) states explicitly that if the person will be embarrassed by rebuke, even in private, one should rebuke him in a roundabout manner, by hinting, or by setting up a “straw man” for rebuke (Avotot Ahavah p. 77, footnotes 44-45).



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