THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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THIS STUDY IS SPONSORED BY ELI WOLF OF EVANSTON, ILLINOIS, IN MEMORY OF ESTHER WOLF AND THE LUBAVITCHER REBBE
Aleh Hadvarim is the beginning of the end, the first portion of the last of the 5 books of the Torah, Dvarim, Deuteronomy; the rabbis also called this book MISHNEH TORAH-- a relearning, rehashing, or repetition of the Torah.
A. AN INTRODUCTION TO, & AN OVERVIEW OF, THE BOOK OF DVARIM
The Pentateuch (Torah) is doubly distinguished from the rest of the Bible (Nach), Joshua thru Chronicles, per truly traditional (i.e. "Orthodox", a rather ridiculous non-Jewish term) Judaism: 1) only the Torah is dictated by God-- Reform, Reconstructionist, and almost all Conservative rabbis and University scholars, following non-Jewish German Biblical criticism, deny this basic truth, thereby drastically reducing the importance and significance of Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel; thus fewer and fewer secular Jews enter academic Bible study programs each year-- H.U. has more faculty than students! But the vast majority of Jewish scholars of Bible-- Yeshiva and kollel students, orthodox rabbis and roshei yeshiva-- do accept the Divinty and unity of the Torah; the writers of the rest of the Bible, however, tho Divinely selected and inspired, use their own language and personalities to express His message. But, being prophets, not just literary figures, they ultimately cannot contradict each other, as their message is Divine (Professors Moshe Greenberg and Dovid Hartman, as most academic teachers of Bible, reject this claim; I found their examples of alleged contradictions unconvincing).
2) The Torah is the sole Biblical source of halacha, God's legal system, His "factory authorized instruction manual", for both Jews and non-Jews-- each according to his mission; Divine Image humans need such guidance to CHOOSE their behavior; other living creatures act by pre-programmed instinct (Rav S. R. Hirsch). But, per Rav Yochanan (Gittin 60b), Halacha is PRIMARILY contained, expounded, and expanded by the oral tradition, forbidden to be written down as a fixed text; it's Israel's unique covenant, even more beloved by God (Jer. Peah 2:4), much of which was also given at Sinai (see The Oral Law by Schimmel, $18 from TOP); it was finally written down and codified in the Mishna, howbeit in conceptual "shorthand", when future oral transmission was threatened by persecution and warfare (60b). Now that we are back home in our land, we should, perhaps, again teach the Oral Law orally. What do you think? Rav Eliezer (Gitten 60b), however, believes that most of Torah can indeed be found in the Written Torah itself (per Hosea 8:12), tho perhaps only via subtle and deep study. Many 19th Century Jewish scholars, e.g. Hirsch, Torah Tmima, Malbim, and Mecklenberg, added to the many hints of the oral tradition in the written Torah, derived in the talmud, and resolved seeming conflicts between them, to combat German critical Bible scholars, later followed by Jewish alleged reformists, who tried to undermine the unity, integrity, and divinity of both.
Dvarim is divided into 3 parts (most non-Orthodox Jews, ignorant of their own tradition, don't know this, tho many probably know that Gaul is so divided!): 1) verses 1:1-3:29 are Moshe's historic reflection and words of reproof; 2) in 4:1-26:15, he reviews God's Law, adding some hitherto unrevealed laws; 3) from 26:16, Moshe delivers his own "swan song"-- poetic blessings and curses accompany his visions of a world redeemed by a model Jewish State of Israel. Per Sporno, Dvarim is Moshe's final attempt to strengthen his flock, just before his death; he explains, exhorts, and prays. It closes with an appreciation of Moshe-- God's sole vehicle for revelation of His unchangeable Torah. 2 great miracles initiated Jewish leadership-- 1) Moshe was given prophecy beyond human nature, to bring down the Torah and 2) Aharon developed holiness so deep that it would pass on to his descendants forever (cf. Lamarcke's views of inherited character traits). Sporno concludes: "Behold This, Our Lord, bestowed upon us all of this and more, with his abundant mercies-- behold He's our Father, for whom we yearned, Who will save us. He'll proclaim to us joy and rejoicing, satisfied and full of God's blessing. May He increase His kindness upon us and may His glory fill the whole earth-- amen and amen".
FROM RAMBAN'S INTRODUCTION TO DVARIM: Mishneh Torah may simply mean a repetition of the Torah (17:18). Moshe, our Teacher, will again expound the majority of the commandments of the Torah... to the new generation entering the land. He won't mention instructions for Cohanim ... zealous priests need no further warning (but see Lev. 21:1). Regarding Israel, however, he'll repeat the commandments-- sometimes to add clarity, sometimes to remind them again and again... to make them fear the consequences of violation. Several commandments are first taught to Israel in Dvarim. But all were taught to Moshe at Sinai, or in the tent of meeting in the first year, before the spies' sin-- there was only a new covenant to keep the same laws in the plains of Moav... therefore, we don't find in Dvarim: "God spoke to Moshe to say: `command the children of Israel...'", etc. (Why are some laws mentioned only now?--)... perhaps they're rarely applicable and only relevant in Israel, tho personal commandments... Moshe now teaches them to the new generation, about to inherit the land. Before he begins to explain the Torah, he reproves Israel; then he reminds them how kind God was, despite their many sins. He didn't want them to think that their sins were unforgivable and give up. Yet he warns of punishments for violation of God's laws-- they must be taken seriously, even amidst the hustle and bustle of nation-building (cf. Israel today).
B. WHO DID IT?
Abarbanel introduces Dvarim with his own chapter in Israel's saga of exile. His youthful labor of love, a commentary on Dvarim, was lost in his exile from Portugal; after exile from Spain and Naples too, he finally found peace in Corfu (cf. Napoleon), where his lost Ms. unexpectedly turned up. His main ? is: "Who wrote Dvarim-- God or Moshe?" Only in Dvarim does Moshe write in 1st person, NOT QUOTING GOD. The book indeed opens: "These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel (1:1)". Dissatisfied by responses of great Torah scholars, past & present, he sought his own answers (his life-long skeptical, critical and penetrating talmudic style-- cf. W. Kaufman, The Faith of A Heretic). He rejects most of Ramban's conclusions-- other rarely applicable Israeli laws ARE found in Leviticus and Numbers. Also some new laws in Dvarim are neither rare nor limited to Israel. Chastisement can't be a major theme, as it's casually scattered thruout Dvarim. If God wrote it, say so! Why repeat what He already said? Why not explain what He said when He said it? So he concludes: Dvarim's blessings and curses are indeed authored by Moshe (Meg. 31b)!
But if Moshe's the author, how could he intermix his writings with God's Revealed Torah? Is he a mere Deuteronomist? Why then does Dvarim speak ABOUT Moshe in 3rd person-- e.g. THIS IS THE TORAH WHICH MOSHE PLACED BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL (4:44)? How could Moshe give new mitzvos without ascribing them to God? How could rabbis (San. 99a) say that one who attributes even one verse of the Pentateuch to Moshe, rather than to God, ipso facto reviles God's word? (cf. the documentary hypothesis, taught at ALL non-Orthodox rabbinical seminaries; see The Condition of Jewish Belief, M. Himmelfarb; cf. Ibn Ezra's conclusion that a few verses were added later to the Divine Torah, in order to aid the reader, tho all of the rest of the Torah was authored by God Himself, e.g. "... and the Canaanites were then in the land", Gen. 12:6, a most difficult view).
Abarbanel concludes that Moshe indeed reviewed all the laws with Israel upon his imminent departure (so he says: "God spoke to me", rather than "God spoke to Moshe" in 1:42, 2:9, 3:2); there were NO new laws, but some had been revealed only by a hint, now to be expounded. God THEN told Moshe to write his own excellent explanation into the Torah itself and ADDED a number of items to it (cf. Bilaam's poetry). Moshe doesn't chastise the new generation for sins of the founding fathers-- they're not to blame; he's only settling their doubts about their own ability to live with the Torah-- thus he explains exactly how and why their fathers failed and how to avoid their errors. YF: But two verses later we read: "... when Moshe spoke to the children of Israel, ACCORDING TO EVERYTHING THAT HASHEM COMMANDED HIM TO THEM (1:3)." So everything that Moshe himself said was itself a rehashing and amplification of that which God taught him.
The Vilna Gaon, like Abarbanel, blended great Torah scholarship with great secular knowledge, unlike most of today's "yeshiva world" and its g'dolim, who claims to represent the Gaon; his approach to Dvarim is also akin to Abarbanel's (smart and learned people often come to the same conclusions independently, e.g. Yaakov Schroeder and Natan Aviezer re Big Bang and Genesis-- had the Gaon read Abarbanel? Ask Yeshiva students if they know when and where each of them lived)-- the Gaon writes: "The First four books of the Torah were heard directly from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed is He, through the throat of Moses (when?). Not so Deuteronomy. Israel heard the words of this Book the same way they heard the words of the prophets who came after Moses. The Holy One, Blessed is He, would speak to the prophet today, and, on a later day, he would go and make the vision known to Israel. Accordingly, at the time the prophet spoke to the people, the word of God had already been removed from him. So, too, the Book of Deuteronomy was heard from the mouth of Moses himself (quoted in Ohel Yaakov to 1:1, translated in The Stone Chumash)
FROM THE OHR HACHAYIM'S INTRODUCTION TO ALEH HADVARIM (a free translation-- had Attar read Abarbanel?)
"THESE ARE THE WORDS WHICH MOSHE SPOKE TO ALL OF ISRAEL... (1:1)
"These" comes to exclude what came before (Vols. 1-4 of the Torah)-- "which MOSHE spoke" implies that these were his own words, not originally dictated by God; this whole book (Dvarim) consists of rebuke and moral lessons from Moshe himself, directed to those who violate the word of Hashem; the Rabbis stated (Meg. 31b) that Moshe composed the curses in Mishneh Torah (Dvarim); even the things that Moshe repeated from Hashem, he repeated on his own.
The verse stressed "THESE" (i.e. "only these"), because just as Moshe spoke on his own here in Dvarim, (one might think) that Moshe said things before Dvarim on his own too... thus we're informed that he didn't say even one letter on his own in the previous four books, which came from the mouth of The Commander in their (exact) form, without any change... (could Ohr Hachayim have written an article on Bible in the heretical Encyclopedia Judaica?).
The verse also wanted to tell us that during the forty years that Moshe was shepherding Israel in the desert, he did not speak harshly to them, except for his words in "Aleh HaDevarim" (per Zohar). True, we also find Moshe saying in Numbers 20:10: "Listen you rebels!" (harsh speech)-- but that was not said to all Israel, only to one rebellious group. That's why 1:1 specified: "to all Israel"-- to all Israel, he did not speak harshly except these words, but, to a small part of them, he spoke harshly elsewhere.
The verse also wanted to hint at the number of days that Moshe reproved Yisrael in Dvarim, 36, the numerical equivalent of "THESE", aleh. The following verses prove this-- on shvat 1-- "the eleventh month, on the first of the month", Moshe began to speak to them, and he passed away on the 7th of Adar (Sotah 12b); that's 36 (days)...
The verse also reflects a Talmudic message (Yoma 19b)-- Rava said that anyone who speaks meaningless mundane words ignores a positive commandment, for the Torah says: "You (B'nei Yisrael) shall speak of THEM" (Deut. 6:7; the words of Torah)-- i.e. "only them", and not casual conversation. Thus it's prohibited to speak of anything, except for words of Torah and awe of God (which certainly includes His laws of nature); this verse informs us that Moshe, our Rabbi, peace be upon him, indeed said only such things that Hashem commanded him to say all his days-- fulfilling thereby "and you shall speak of them"; anyone who sees "these words" will testify that all of them are words of Torah, wisdom and moral lessons. YF: This does not mean that one ignores worldly matters-- the Torah covers every worldly matter and Moshe himself, Israel's political and military leader, is involved with their food, drink and wars. But God Awareness and His Torah should interface with every realm of life and always be integrated into one's speech; speech devoid of purpose, content, and holiness is a profanation of man's unique Divine gift. See "Speech" below.
"These are the words (only) of Moshe..." also hints that only Moshe's words were on such a high level-- for 2 reasons. #1: no one else was on his, the speaker's, level, as God testified to his two siblings (Bamidbar 12:5). Secondly, because the audience was "all Yisrael", a full nation (then it was miraculous-- today anyone can address even many nations simultaneously, via satallite TV and internet, setting the stage for Moshiach to address the whole world!).
(Moshe spoke) "to ALL Israel" implies that not only did he address the Jews of that generation, but also all Jews who will exist in the future-- only THESE WORDS were on such a high all-encompassing timeless level.
C. MISHNA AND TORA
In Dvarim, Moshe initiates the oral law process, Mishna, the traditional exposition of the Torah-- God values it as much as His own words. After Israel's desert failures, Moshe reviews God's laws and Jewish history, seeking greater depth of insight and understanding. So Mishneh Torah combines Mishna and Torah. The Talmud discusses the authorship and order of the Bible (B.B. 15); only the last 8 verses of Dvarim, the tale of Moshe's death, may have been written by Yehoshua-- the rest of the Torah is written by Moshe. God dictated, the whole Torah, but may have ordered Moshe to deliver blessings and curses in his own language. Abarbanel claims that he'll reveal insights in Dvarim that earlier scholars never even imagined (cf. today's scholars), confirming his thesis-- he prays that God continue to inspire his thoughts.
3 PATHS FOLLOW DVARIM: After Dvarim, the Mishna continues Moshe's great work of exposition of God's Torah, The Book of Joshua resumes the tale of the national, moral and historic journey of God's Chosen Folk, and, as soon as we conclude Devarim on Simchat Torah, we immediately return to the beginning of God's Torah and Universe, reading the Creation Saga in Genesis; its tarnished Edenic world, where Man was to develop his Divine Image, in partnership with God, is to be re-created in Israel by Israel-- God's kingdom of priests and holy nation (Exodus 19:6). We must never forget our compassionate universality amidst our priestly particularity. Thus some scholars viewed Dvarim, "Mishna + Torah", as the essential covenant between God and Israel-- it combines God's revelation to man with man's highest striving to integrate His words with life, the Mishnaic process. Some say that Moshe brought heaven down to earth-man and that Aharon raised earth-man up to heaven.
Thus Dvarim represents the quintessence of the whole Torah and Jewish History, and is often the means to re-awaken Israel to God's Torah, much later down the road, without all the details of the other 4 books. Sometimes Haazinu, Moshe's epic poetic climax (Ch. 32, = lev, heart), THIS SONG (31:21-2), itself seems to serve as the quintessence of the quintessence, the very heart of the Torah, in keeping the candle of the Jewish soul burning. In re-living the story of Exodus at the Passover seder, we don't read Exodus in the Hagada, but its review in Dvarim's recital by the Jew who brings his first fruits to Jerusalem. So when the king is to review "the Torah" before the whole people, our tradition generally has it that he reads only verses from Deuteronomy.
The end of the sabbatical year of faith and study is a time of great receptivity to God and Torah; a Torah reading by the king, before all Jews, culminates this peak experience (31:10-12, tho the king is nowhere mentioned in this text; Moshe simply says "You-- singular-- shall read this Torah", without specifying to whom "you" refers; two Jerusalem scholars, Perry the Typesetter-- cf. Rav Yochanan the Shoemaker-- and Rav Y. Hadari the Rosh Yeshiva, posit that it's Yehoshua, the first King of Israel in Israel, the only land where he and all future kings are to read the Torah; when there's no king, the high priest reads it)-- from Sefer Hachinuch, who includes Parshat Vayelech in Parshat Nitzavim. Adults learn and acquire awesome God awareness there, both men & women (Ramban, vs. Chag. 3a; see Eliahu Schwarz's new album, Hear our Voices- women at prayer, in hebrew, english and german-- $40 from TOP). Little children are brought along to "reward those who bring them" (Chag. 3a)-- exposure to a vibrant Torah atmosphere is likely to produce children who will give "nachas", satisfaction that you raised something good: "THAT WE NOT STRAIN FOR EMPTINESS, NOR GIVE BIRTH TO CONFUSION (see Is. 65:23)". The Jews then return to six normal years of building Israel, deeply imbued with Torah. Thus they'll observe "This Torah" (31:12) all their days in the land (if not, they leave). "THIS TORAH" here means the whole Torah (per Lekach Tov; up to 31:13, per Ramban and Abarbanel), as it does when Moshe wrote it: "Moshe wrote THIS TORAH and gave it to the cohanim, the sons of Levi, who carry the ark of the covenant of God, and to all the elders of Israel (31:9)"; but in the middle of the passage, 31:11, "THIS TORAH", read by the king, refers only to certain sections of Dvarim, which may comprise a synopsis of the Torah (Sota 41a, Yad Hag. 3:3; in 3:5, Rambam derives from "THIS TORAH" that the reading may only be in Hebrew). Kaplan's THE LIVING TORAH cites various opinions as to which verses of Deuteronomy are read by the king, and in what order; apparently, there was no clear tradition.
In Deut. 4:44, we read: "And THIS IS THE TORAH which Moshe placed before the children of Israel"; how would Ramban and Ibn Ezra explain this verse-- does it refer only to those parts of the Torah written to that point? Neither comments here-- but Rashi says it refers to the teaching which follows this section, specifically the Decalogue, which Moshe repeated in the next chapter (R. Bachye). Alternatively, the teaching refers to the entire book, and this verse refers back to the early part of the book, which introduces Moshe's teachings in Deuteronomy; but because Moshe introduced his theme with the admonitions and exhortations of the last 4 chapters, the Torah repeats the theme of the book here, in verses 44-45 (Ramban to 1:1, per the Stone Chumash; 4:45 reads: "These are the testimonies, the decrees, and the ordinances that Moshe spoke to the Children of Israel, when they left Egypt"). Sporno says that 4:44 refers to the "eyuni" (conceptual) portion of the Torah-- does anyone know what he means? Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook bans the Ashkenazi custom of adding "by the Mouth of God, via the hand of Moshe" (the end of Num. 9:23) to 4:44, when the Torah is lifted up and displayed, tho it makes a dramatic statement of faith-- we may not mix parts of two verses to make a new verse. Sefardim and Chabbadniks indeed don't add "by the Mouth...";
Apparently, some Ashkenazim originally said the whole verse (Num. 9:23) after Deut. 4:44: "By the mouth of God they encamped, and by the mouth of God they travelled, the charge of God they preserved, by the Mouth of God, via the hand of Moshe"-- encamping is stressed here before travelling, the opposite order of the verses recited upon taking the Torah out of the ark and returning it. Sometimes we must stress the race toward progress, other times the restful pause for reflection and coalescence of our previous progress.
God then predicts a cursed Jewish existence in response to Israel's abandoning Him and His Torah, but "THIS SONG", written down by Moshe, will never disappear as a witness to their eternal covenant with God (31:21-2). Then we read that Moshe FINISHED writing the words of "THIS TORAH" (adding to it the Song, just commanded him-- Ramban on 31:24) ON a book UNTIL THEY FINISHED, and commanded the Levites to take "THIS BOOK OF THE TORAH and place it alongside (or in) the ark, as a testimony" (31:24-6). Henceforth they would not even touch it, to add (thereto) or to diminish (from it-- vs. H.U. and H.U.C., who teach the heretical Documentary Hypothesis and the resultant conclusion that Jews can diminish the Torah at will or whim; they would probably never grant Dr. Moshe ben Nachman an Honory Doctorate). Thus Ibn Ezra, quoted by Ramban (31:24), tho banned by his father's anti-rationalist namesake, Rav Nachman of Breslav, claims that the last part of the Torah, V'zot Habracha (ch. 33-34), was written earlier, and its proper place is after 31:1; tho Ramban normally disagrees with Ibn Ezra, and insists that the Torah is indeed in chronological order, here he apparantly agrees that the Torah itself clearly implies that everything after 31:24 must have been said before, if it's part of that Torah which Moshe completed in 31:24.
God will accede to Israel's request to be distanced from Him and His Mission (cf. Eden), to lead a "cool" life (cf. Adam); but when He's hidden, tragedies and horrors overtake Israel (cf. the Flood, the Tower and the Shoa). Then they'll realize that they need God in their midst. Moshe and Yehoshua are BOTH commanded: "Write this song for yourselves and teach it to the children of Israel; place it in their mouths-- that this song bear witness for Me against the children of Israel" (31:19).
The poetic song referred to, Haazinu, follows Vayalech, w/o further introduction. The plural-- "WRITE this song"-- teaches that every Jew must write (or have written) a scroll of the Torah (M.T., Sefer Torah 7:1). No portion of the Torah may be be written alone, other than for tefillin and mezuzot. Thus to write Haazinu, one must write the whole Torah, also called song. Perhaps Haazinu is a precis of all we know about God and His universe-- the past, the future, and Israel's unique role; it's an overview of Torah, as God's 10 Statements are the essence of all of His 613 commands, per Saadya and Ramban. Some learn that Moshe now had to write the entire Torah, called SONG-- his Torah included the musical accompaniment, cantillation, as well as vowel points (Ralbag). Dr. Palazi compared Jewish and Moslem cantillation of their sacred texts and prayers at the 12th World Congess of Jewish Studies, an outstanding event to be featured, the Good Lord Willing, in a future study. Rebbe Akiva (Eruvin 54b) explains "...PLACE IT IN THEIR MOUTHS"-- teach Torah until pupils know it well enough to teach others; he thus equates "the song" with the whole Torah.
All Jews, God's Kingdom of Priests (Ex. 19:6) must be both pupils and teachers, who raise up many pupils, e.g. via distributing parsha study sheets-- Avot 1:1; there's always someone who knows less than you do-- dynamic Aish Hatorah encourages its pupils to spread the first words they learn, whereas other institutions prefer that their students not present Judaism to others until they're well learned and observant themselves. But no one ever knows it all: "Who shall proclaim the greatness of God? Who can convey ALL His praise?" (Ps. 106:2; cf. 40:6); Aish does a wonderful job of giving hundreds of young Jews a crash course in Judaism each summer, but, unlike Isralight, attempts to limit their exposure to just "Aish" Judaism; a few hours ago, their leaders tried to stop me from giving these studies to their boys next door. They have also asked us not to send them to their students on e-mail! While their anti-Religious Zionist views are not presented in beginners' programs, which even feature Religious Zionist teachers, e.g. Rabbis Shiff and Kahn, the yeshiva itself is permeated with them.
God, given Israel's past, predicts that they'll turn to alien gods, amidst their forthcoming luxury and wealth (cf. Vilna, L.A. Bnei Brak and Eilat); this song bears witness to their true mission; IT WILL NEVER BE (entirely) FORGOTTEN BY THEIR DESCENDANTS. The returnee movement may blend secular achievements of the masses who left Torah, after massive Jewish migration, with the holiness they abandoned. R. Chiya so revived post-Temple Destruction Jewry. Moshe wrote the song that day; Yehoshua apparently only witnessed its completion and helped teach it-- Ramban. Moshe first taught it to those around him, then to the elders, and finally to all the people, together with Yehoshua (Abarbanel).
Later in the O.T. (Only Testament, 2K 22 and 2Ch 34), we find God's Torah or Law appearing in the form of a suddenly discovered hidden scroll-- its message of doom is taken as a warning of impending Divine punishment upon Israel; some claim that this scroll too, tho called the Torah or Law, only contained its synopsis or quintessence, Dvarim, with its blessings and frightening curses. This would seem quite questionable, however, for, as we mentioned above, it is forbidden to write a separate scroll of any book of the Torah-- because an H.U. professor might find it and do his darndest to destroy the unity of the Torah thereby?! King Yoshiyahu had temporarily brought his kingdom back to God, when this hidden scroll, "God's Torah BY THE HAND OF MOSHE" (2Ch34:14; perhaps the 1st edition), was found beneath the money collected in the Temple (2K22, 2Ch.34); the king was apparently unfamiliar with the Torah, called only "a book" in 22:14, where Shafan reads it ("from it"-- see 2Ch 34:18) to the king. When his majesty heard the words of "The Book of the Law", apparently the curses in Leviticus and/or Deuteronomy, he rent his clothes, realizing that: "Great is the wrath of the Lord, that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened to the words of this book, to do according to all that written concerning us" (22:13). Chulda the prophetess told the king that Judah was indeed to be punished with the curses in the scroll, but not in his righteous lifetime.
This incident occurred 20 years after wicked Manasha's death, after a 55 year reign-- he'd banned the Torah and destroyed all copies he could find. Some say that this was the only Torah left; more probably, it was simply an ancient one, its discovery taken as an omen (it was rolled to the curse of exile in Deut. 28:36, per Radak and Abarbanel-- see Klei Yakar on 2K 22:13, who learns this from "... the words of this scroll, WHICH HAS BEEN FOUND"). 3 people in this story are named after animals-- Chulda (weasel), Shafan (hare) and Achbor (mouse). This Torah was hidden when Achaz burned all copies of the Torah, per Rashi, Radak, Abarbanel and Metzudas Dovid. But Shem Efrayim (Rav Efrayim Zalman Margolis of Brodi, 5673, 1913) disagrees with his illustrious medieval predecessors. He knows of no such Talmudic or Midrashic source. Achaz just sealed up the Torah, Manasha cut out the Holy Names (cf. university scholars de-deification of Bible), and Amon burnt it (San. 103b). Radak assumes that there were still Torah scrolls around, as righteous King Hezekiah must have left over many, but they were ignored. Per Abarbanel, Manasha repented 33 years before his death, but Moshe's original scroll had been hidden when Manasha cut God's Name out of the scrolls (after he repented too?). Thus Chilkiya announced that he'd found THE (not "a") Scroll of the Law-- the original or master scroll, per Malbim, who notes that we often neglect the Torah, the inner temple of God, where His Shechina rests, while repairing the physical condition of His Outer Temple the buildings which house it! In 2Kings 22:8, the book is called "sefer hatorah", the Book of the Torah,
SPEECH-- MAN'S MARK OF DIVINITY
THESE ARE THE WORDS (which Moshe spoke), the opening and title of Dvarim, thus reflects its essence-- Moshe's Word. In Matos, we stressed the sanctity of man's Word. Now we bask in the light of Moshe's words, the ultimate in human speech, perhaps the aim of Creation. Only three beings in the Biblical universe share abstract speech-- God, Man and Angels (Bilaam's donkey is a one time exception!). In the first story of Creation, God appears only as elo-him, Lord of Nature (elo-him = 86 = Hateva, Nature). As such, He creates Man with the potential of developing within himself an image of the Lord of Nature (Gen. 1:26). Man can understand natural law, can control and manipulate all existence. Yet only in the 2nd account of Creation does Rashi describe Man as a speaking being, one who has and expresses deep personal knowledge; only then does God appear in His infinite relational Essence-- hashem elokim. Rashi, as ancient Aramaic translations, renders: "(MAN BECAME) A TRULY ALIVE SOUL (Gen. 2:7)" as "A SPEAKING SOUL". "If you speak, remember this power comes from your soul, a part of God; even profane words use the letters of the Holy aleph-bet; bring their innate holiness back to its Source (Baal Shem Tov)". Strive to avoid anything off color or disgusting in your speech (Pes. 3a; Lev. Raba 24; Yoma 19b-- cf. the media and separate male seating at haredi weddings). "There are three partners in man (father, mother, and God)-- God gives him his spirit, soul, and the speech of his mouth" (Niddah 31a).
Speech doesn't just convey information-- it projects and exposes one's soul, his deepest and most sensitive perceptions, bringing Divinity into the physical world. As such, its quality and impact are in proportion to the speaker's depth of soul. WORDS THAT EMIT FROM THE HEART ENTER THE HEART (of another; Moshe Ibn Ezra, The Song of Israel, p. 156-- cf. Ber. 6b). Judaism stressed the Oral Tradition, direct contact with the speech and soul of a master of Moshe's tradition, far beyond mere study of a book. All reality is created by Divine Utterances, combinations of Hebrew letters (Gen. 1). WITH THE WORD OF GOD, THE HEAVENS WERE MADE (Ps. 33:6; cf. Tal. Shabat 119b)-- "not by labour or toil, but only by a word", says Rav Judah b. Rav Shimon (Gen. Raba 3:2). Some, however, as Rambam, understand the Divine Word as meaning Divine Thought and Intention (see Otzar Yisroel-- Dibur). Man's inner reality is later recreated via God's 10 Utterances at Sinai. Divine Man's own words have great effect-- A RIGHTEOUS MAN DECREES AND GOD MAKES IT COME TRUE (Shab. 59b on Job 22:28-- cf. Maharal's Golem). Yaakov states that whoever stole Lavan's idols shall die (not knowing it was Rachel-- Gen. 11:32); so she died shortly thereafter, tho contrary to his intention (per Mid. Raba 74:9-- you need not agree).
D. CRITICAL REVIEWS
Those who undermine belief in Divine Revelation, leaving Mankind without clear Divine guidance (i.e. Bible Critics), claim that Chilkiyahu made up the scroll of Dvarim or the whole Torah (2K22, 2 Ch. 34 above); Rav Hertz (Chumash 937ff), originally of originally faithful JTS, shows the emptiness of their arguments and that of Bishop Colenso, who claimed that Jeremia forged it! Many issues in Dvarim would have been obsolete by Yoshiyahu's time. We also see the ancient law of Dvarim applied in 2K14:6. We'd expect a grand summary and future prediction by someone of Moshe's stature, just before his departure; we only find it in Dvarim. German Wellhausen's vicious attacks on Moshe's Torah preceded Nazi Germany's on its spokesmen-- both he and they tried everything to free themselves of God's burden and Chosen Folk. So Sol Leibgott portrays Islam's antipathetic response to Jewry, even in South Africa-- that God's dumped the Jewish people from the annals of history; "We've been chosen, you've been frozen", runs a popular doggerel amongst Moslems; such views lead to Arab terrorist and intifada attacks on Jews and Christians (cf. Christianity's concept of the "wandering Jew" and Luther's anti-semitism, backdrops for the Crusader and German Holocausts; cf. all "religious" and national negation of "the other", e.g. "goyishe kop").
Arye Kaplan writes: "Altho Dvarim's written as Moshe's testimony, every word was written by God's express command. God dictated the Book as if Moshe himself were addressing the people".
SOME SOURCES: Deut. 1:3; Megilla 31b; Ramban on Lev. 26:16, Deut. 1:1 and 5:12, where he says that Moshe speaks in God's Name, adding the term YOUR LORD in Dvarim; Ibn Ezra on Ex. 20:1; Chinukh, Intro. to Deut. (before commandment 414); Or Ha'Hayim 5:19; Ralbag; Kli Chemdah; Mishnah Brura 428:18; Shaare Zohar on Shabbath 87a.
Our reading contains only 2 mitzvos-- 1) to appoint properly learned judges, regardless of other qualifications; 2) they're not to fear any litigant.
Dvarim opens: THESE ARE THE WORDS WHICH MOSHE SPOKE TO ALL ISRAEL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE JORDAN IN THE WILDERNESS, OPPOSITE SUF, BETWEEN PARAN AND TOFEL AND LAVAN AND CHATZAROT AND DI-ZAHAV; 11 DAYS JOURNEY FROM CHOREV VIA MT. SEIR TO KADESH- BARNEA... MOSHE SPOKE TO THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, PER ALL GOD COMMANDED ... AFTER HE SMOTE AMORITE KING SICHON..., MOSHE BEGAN TO EXPOUND THIS TORAH SAYING... (DEUT. 1:1-6).
The geographic setting of Moshe's discourse seems overdefined WITH OVER 12 PLACE REFERENCES, more specific than a deed to a field! (Ramban). Also Moshe did NOT speak to them AT all those places. Per Rashi, these place names are veiled references, gentle hints, to Israel's sins during their trek. Moshe's prime purpose here is to reprove the Jews for past sins in the desert and to prevent future ones in Israel. He just successfully HINTED to Gad and Reuven that their children must come before their cattle. Moshe now again avoids the direct angry approach which lost him his life and leadership, and made him forget God's law. Speech must bring peace as well as truth.
Israel's new generation are now poised to enter Israel from Transjordan, in the 40th desert year from Exodus, 5 weeks before Moshe's death. This is the ideal moment for Moshe's impact, just before his death and just after doing something valuable for the Jews IN THEIR OWN TERMS-- defeating Amorite kings. ATTENTION: parents, spouses, would-be leaders, and those who try to make others observant-- first help, then criticize! Yeshiva students serving in Tzahal can best reach and teach temporarily secular Israelis; protestors on Rehov Bar Ilan just "drive them away". Yaakov waited until he was dying to reprove Reuven, lest he turn to Esav! (Sifre, Rashi 1:3). One MUST reprove another even 100 times (B.M. 31a); some say this applies only to the actual moment of sin. We must balance criticism of our children with the danger that they'll find our demands too much, and leave us for casual secular lifestyles (a case for Bnei Akiva). Perhaps Sifre relates only to parents and children; its easier to take reproof from a stranger, e.g. a therapist.
The Vilna Gaon claims that God's essential Law is found in only 3 of Torah's 5 books-- Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Genesis is just historic and moral background. Each of the 3 times Moshe SPEAKS OR EXPOUNDS THESE WORDS (1:1- 6) corresponds to one of these 3 basic legal books and to the 3 parts of Dvarim. The beginning admonishment corresponds to Exodus, God's constantly pushing the Jews from mediocrity to greatness, punishing those who fight God. The middle section of Dvarim, legal review, reflects the code of the holy nation in Leviticus. The final section of blessings, curses, and visions reflects the constant message of Numbers-- Jewish welfare depends upon integration of Torah with life.
Genesis is the fall of universal mankind-- the pleasure mad flood generation, aping Adam and Eve, followed by the power mad tower generation, "Cain franchised". Finally, humanity begins its return to God and Eden, led by Avraham, who tries to be what Adam should have been. His grandson Yisroel, nee Yaakov, finally stabilizes the first model family (see our 1/91 study).
This model family develops into a model nation in Exodus; Exodus ends with God's appearance in the public tabernacle, just as he appeared to the patriarchs as individuals (Ramban). Leviticus, Torat Cohanim (The Laws of the Priests), gives Israel their detailed manifold regulations as a "kingdom of priests and holy nation" to universal mankind (Ex. 19:6). Numbers portrays the long slow tortuous trek of the Jewish people thru the deserts of history toward Israel and Messianic redemption. Dvarim, called THE BOOK OF MERCY by Ramban, shows the Jews that the Messianic vision WILL be fulfilled, despite their sins; God will NEVER change His mind about His Chosen People, tho they'll AT TIMES become a normal (i.e. corrupt) nation-- the mistaken secular Zionist ideal (cf. the Arad Festival); this engenders 2 more hachshara exiles. Let's improve Hatikva, Israel's UNOFFICIAL national anthem, to reflect this message; based on the Roumanian Moldavin folk song Carol Eu Boi, it's undergone many changes since Naftali Hertz Imber, a broken drunken poet, first wrote of "returning to the land of our fathers, to the city where David dwelt" (an earlier longer version spoke of an "angry God"). After expressing our prerequisite heartfelt hope, "to be a free people, am chofshi, in our land", the repeated refrain should express our ultimate hope and dream of thousands of years-- "to be a holy (model) people, am kadosh, in our land" (see and spread our bumper stickers). Then spiritually sensitive Jews can sing it too!
The grand finale: Moshe, about to die, blesses the tribes of the NATION of Israel, just as dying Yaakov blessed his sons, the FAMILY of Israel; both would rather implant corrective self-knowledge in their sons and pupils than have sweet goodbyes (cf. Jewish ethical wills). Midrash Raba expounds THESE ARE THE WORDS WHICH MOSHE SPOKE-- Moshe's eloquent swan song, after starting his career tongue-tied or stuttering, shows the power of Torah to turn one into an effective orator (perhaps one feels compelled to proclaim its clear Revealed truth). Great preachers, Jewish or non-Jewish, are always steeped in O.T., the Only Testament. So studying the Weekly Torah reading may improve your speech! Only Moshe sacrificed so much for the Jews; he brought them out of Egyptian slavery to the imminent conquest of Israel-- thus perhaps only HIS words could be truly effective (cf. heretical B.G.).
E. A SYNOPSIS OF ALEH HADVARIM
Moshe hints at the sins of Israel's fathers, who died in the desert; so Rav Kook warned us to be careful to note faults of our teachers and parents-- otherwise, we'll likely copy them! Moshe then exhorts the new generation to be especially careful of the anti-Zionist sin of the spies (so he castigated Gad and Reuven last week). Fear and lack of faith may turn them from God's command: "GO IN AND POSSESS THE LAND".
The people's sin, not the spies', is stressed here; the new generation can't excuse themselves by blaming their dead and dying leaders (Ramban-- cf. Adam, Eve, and the snake). Moshe, however, blames himself-- a retired, burnt out and impatient leader, who won't enter Israel. He stresses how he had to divide his task and set up people's courts, due to Jewish expansion (1:9-18); he uses the word EICHAH in 1:12-- "HOW CAN I bear your bother, burden, and quarreling alone"; Eichah also begins the Book of Lamentations and we read 1:12 to its mournful chant-- perhaps loss of direct constant contact with Moshe engendered Israel's eventual downfall. The original decision to receive the Torah from Moshe, rather than directly from God, may have had similar effects; the spies' tragic anti-aliyah rebellion thus follows 1:12.
But Moshe never condemns Israel's expansion and power; he even wishes them a thousandfold further expansion (1:11). Modern Israel has also lost so much of its spirit, while simultaneously gaining so much modern technological power and wealth; rabbis shouldn't condemn or restrain great secular development, but try to sanctify and deepen it-- Rav Kook proclaimed: "We must sanctify the new and renew the old". We're to realistically and painstakingly perfect this world, not leave it for an ideal world of spirit or focus on magic solutions, e.g. Meshiach Now or N-Na-Nachman. Great halachists, even King David, were grounded by preoccupation with the detailed messy anatomy of cows and chickens (Rav JBS)-- I might indeed bring Bnei Brak's insular sages my ?able chicken, tho not my ?able soul. Yet we need great faith and energy to overcome the huge obstacles in our path-- to banish existential despair, we must also deeply experience Israel's dream of EVENTUAL Messianic perfection; we must constantly focus on our own, the world's and God's essential goodness (Rav Yitz Greenberg at Pardes). Terrible acts sometimes help bring Meshiach, when they're intended to preserve and perpetuate human life-- e.g. those of Lot's daughters, Tamar and Ruth (Rav J. Soloveichik).
Moshe again tells the Jews to wage war under his successor, Y'hoshua; yet any war against God's Will must fail. The main test of the first generation, ex-slaves, was courage to fight for Israel-- cf. Meah Shearim; but the new free and strong Israeli generation hadn't known slavery and were toughened by the desert; they have the opposite test-- to restrain aggressive impulse, tho sure of victory, when war is NOT in accordance with God's Will-- cf. JDL. They pass this test with Esav, Moav, and Ammon, who are filled with fear of the Jews and won't let them pass thru their lands; yet God prohibits attacking them (Rashi, 2:4-7).
Even when God orders Israel to conquer Sichon, they first try a peace initiative; God LATER approves and makes it a law, even re the 7 rotten idolatrous nations of Canaan! (a fortiori the Arabs). Jews are to be doves-- Rav Aaron Soloveichik, however, distinguishes a mute dove (Ps. 56:1), David and the Jews in exile, and a proud dove, the sovereign Jewish people in their land; the latter flutters its wings and attacks anyone who would upset its tranquility. Our warrior King David urges: LEAVE EVIL AND DO GOOD-- SEEK OUT PEACE AND PURSUE IT (Ps. 34:15-- cf. JUSTICE, JUSTICE, SHALL YOU PURSUE, Deut. 16:20)-- but the Torah doesn't command such ardent pursuit of opportunities to do ritual mitzvot (Mid. Hagadol & Tan. on Chukkat). One must BUY, NOT TAKE, food and water from Esav (2:6)-- Barak Moore wonders (on mail.Jewish, Nysernet) why they needed to buy food-- they had manna! Ibn Ezra indeed suggests translating: "Will you (need to) buy from them food to eat...?". They may just wish to vary their diet with local fruit (Ramban). We must firmly punish every Arab who tries to damage the State of Israel; but we must treat those who cooperate in a kind and just manner, seeking peaceful relations. So Yaakov approached Esav with peaceful conciliation and prayer to God, while also preparing for war.
Moshe stresses the need for absolutely fair Israeli justice for all-- no protektsia!: I COMMANDED YOUR JUDGES THEN SAYING: "HEAR WHAT'S BETWEEN YOUR BROTHERS AND JUDGE RIGHTEOUSLY BETWEEN EACH MAN AND HIS BROTHER AND BETWEEN HIS STRANGER. DON'T RECOGNIZE FACES IN JUDGEMENT; YOU MUST PAY EQUAL ATTENTION TO THE SMALL AND THE GREAT; DON'T FEAR ANY MAN, FOR JUDGEMENT IS THE LORD'S" (1:16-7).
DON'T OVER-JEW IT: Rambam's son Avraham, unfortunately ignored by many insular Hardei g'dolim, says that this verse also refers to any matter which one must "judge" with reason, e.g. scientific ??; we're forbidden to blindly accept unreasonable Talmudic opinion on SECULAR issues (many Gaonim thought likewise), i.e. "RECOGNIZING FACES IN JUDGEMENT"; talmudic authority is only in religious matters, when they cite Sinai's oral tradition from God (Introd. to the Agada, vs. Ramban's preface to Genesis; cf. Ohr Hachayim on Deut. 32:1, Ibn Ezra on Yitzchak's age at the Akada). Rebbe, compiler of the Mishna, indeed admitted that the sages of the nations were right and the sages of Israel wrong, regarding an astronomic concept (Pesachim 94b), and that Antoninus, not Rebbe, was right re ensoulment (San. 91b). A wise man learns from all men (Avot 4:1).
Rambam proclaims in Guide 3:14: "Don't expect that everything mentioned (by our sages) regarding astronomy corresponds to the facts-- theoretical sciences were deficient back then; they didn't speak of them based on tradition received from the prophets, but because they were scientists by the standards of their times, or because they'd heard about these matters from such scientists. Yet, if we do find correct opinions, we shouldn't say this happened by mere chance; rather, to whatever extent possible, to explain a person's statements so that they agree with experimentally determined facts-- we must do so"-- from correspondence of Eli Turkel (6.14.95) and Aaron Greenberg (6.12.95) on mail-Jewish Digest; to subscribe, send the message: subscribe mail-jewish your_first_name your_last_name to: firstname.lastname@example.org/mail-jewish.
Greenberg concludes: One does Judaism no good by naively clinging to ideas clearly wrong (as the church stubbornly did-- cf. Galileo and uniform impractical drab 19th Century clothes), derived from past scientific ideas of the sages and nations of the world. We must view Talmudic science critically, and accept as true only that which can fit our knowledge of science, and triumph that which indeed shows how SOME of our sages did have hidden knowledge of the universe*. This will strengthen Judaism...
*e.g. Ramban's reference to 24 hour rotation of a round earth, quoting Ibn Ezra and Guide 2:30; see San. Ch. 11 and Jer. A.Z. 3:1, quoting Alexander of Macedonia, who allegedly flew so high in the sky that he saw the earth as a ball! Rambam (Guide 1:7), as Ramban on Genesis 2:7, speaks of primitive man, human in all respects except "image of God". But in Hullin 9:6, he quotes those who believe mice come from the earth. See Andrew Sanders' Dear Maimonides ($25 from TOP), where he shows how Rambam & Co. were so wrong about so much, and so stubbornly insistant that they were right, despite their lack of evidence.
It's awfully hard to maintain the lofty ideals of the Divine desert trek when creating a flesh-and-blood state with an army and economy; Moshe must again stress justice as they begin the conquest. He again warns Gad and Reuven that they must lead the other Jews in the war for Israel before returning "home" to Transjordan, a rich cattle country plagued by violence (cf. Manhattan) . Their children, deprived of their fathers, form a disturbed Transjordanian population with a high risk of manslaughter (Rav Y. Abramsky, via Rav S. Grafstein, who supplied the above Internet material)-- 3 of the 6 cities of refuge were in their territory. Perhaps Moshe hopes that they'll absorb the spirit of Israel and make Aliyah (cf. Volunteers for Israel). Moshe now speaks of their wives even before their children, to whom he'd already given precedence over their cattle-- these are difficult messages for cattlemen possessed by their possessions (3:19)-- cf. Dallas & Gen. 47:27: AND THE JEWS SETTLED DOWN IN EGYPT (green cards) IN GOSHEN-LAND (beginning on the East Side) AND THEY WERE POSSESSED (!) IN IT AND REALLY EXPANDED.
We close with Moshe's command to Yehoshua, 3:21-2: YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN ALL GOD YOUR LORD DID TO THESE 2 KINGS-- SO WILL GOD DO TO ALL KINGDOMS WHERE YOU PASS; DON'T FEAR THEM, FOR GOD YOUR LORD FIGHTS FOR YOU (when we fight for Him!).
F. THE SAD HAFTARA is IS. 1:1-27
God teaches man by both Torah and his inner self, conditioned by life experience, His audio-visual division. After reading the Torah, we bless Him "Who's given us a Torah of truth AND has planted eternal life WITHIN US". Dvarim's grand review of both Revelation and the life experience of Moshe and the nation is a model for all retrospection and introspection; thus it accompanies us thru the sad national memories of the mourning season and the agonizing individual life review of Elul and the High Holidays-- yet it keeps our spirits up by portraying great Messianic goals at the end of the long path to an ideal Israel. Blessings and curse are linked to moral success. God's tough with His firstborn son Israel, who has great potential; Esav, who has little, is immediately given his Seir reward-- w/o hachshara in Egypt. Whatever's worthwhile is also darn hard. So we see messages of potential doom and exile in Isaiah's Jewish overview vision 700 years later. He condemns insincere sacrifices in 1:11, as well as insincere Sabbaths, holidays, and prayer! Why?- "YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOODGUILT" (those who equate Judaism with modern superficial liberalism focus ONLY on his condemnation of sacrifices). Tho we eschew sadness on Shabbat, sad haftarot, when everyone is in shul, may engender repentence and bring closer that great Messianic Day which shall be 100% Shabbat.
Religious activity of any kind is to engender: "LEARN TO DO GOOD, SEEK WHAT JUSTICE REQUIRES, REIN YOUR PASSIONS, JUDGE THE ORPHAN, FIGHT FOR THE WIDOW (1:17)". When "holy" activity masks an unholy Jewish soul, God must temporarily destroy THEIR Temple (not His) and clean them up in exile. Isaiah sees punishment as purification, as removing dross by intense fire or a caustic substance. Eventually the Jews shall leave their Diaspora-- physical and psychological captivity; then Zion and Jerusalem will become true models of righteousness and justice, redeeming all mankind. The 9th of Av shall become a day of Messianic joy!
G. A TIME TO MOURN
Ritual mourning is time-linked-- when, God forbid, our dead lies before us (anninut), we're expected to do nothing but attend to his burial. Afterwards, we again do mitzvot, but don't leave our homes for other matters. The first 3 days are for wailing, the next 4 for consolation. We then return to our transient life of work, but not to the world of rejoicing (except for transcendant holy days). Formal mourning ends after 30 days, except for parents (1 year); we're not to exaggerate or prolong mourning. Life must go on; excessive mourning often masks guilt over past treatment of the deceased.
If one hears of the death of a close relation within 30 days (shmua krova), he observes the full 7 and 30 day periods, unless he can still join the main 7 day public mourning. If he hears after 29 or 30 days (shmua rechoka), he only mourns a token hour and doesn't tear his clothing-- but isn't the effect on him the same? Perhaps the period for mourning the deceased in this world has objectively passed-- mourning may be defined as accompanying the dead from this world, as any guest upon his departure. After 30 days, he may be gone and there's no one to accompany (is Rav Nachman still in Uman?). We don't revive mourning, tho we commemorate the anniversary of death.
But our periodic national mourning of ancient Israel's failures and catastrophes doesn't end as long as we're still in exile, w/o a Temple-- it helps us restore our relationship to God, to eventually transform disaster into Messianic joy. In reviving mourning, we start with the lowest level of impact and gradually return to the moment of tragedy-- from Tamuz 17's fast, we just limit life celebrations, e.g. weddings; from Av 1, mourning intensifies, akin to the 30 day period. The week of Tisha B'Av resembles the intense 7 days of shiva. Finally, the morning of Tisha B'Av resembles aninut-- we don't don tefillin until we begin to leave mourning in the afternoon. Traces remain on Av 10. Our return to God and self develops during Elul and Tishrei, culminating in Yom Kippur. We celebrate our reunion with Him on Sukkot, harbinger of the messianic era; all nations will then find God, permeating the State of Israel, especially Jerusalem-- "At the end of days, the mountain of God's House shall be established at the top of mountains (other attempts at transcendance)... and all nations shall flow toward it. Many people shall go and say: `Let's go up to the summit of God, to the house of the Lord of Yaakov; and he'll (He'll?) teach us from his (His?) ways (the 7 laws of Noach?) and we'll walk in his (His?) paths'-- For from Zion shall come forth Law and God's Word from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-3)-- all nations are to learn religion from us, not v.v.
Ashkanazim greatly expanded the Tamuz-Av mourning for the Temple and Zion after their first holocaust-- the Crusades; was this wise? Did it help? How much should it be lightened as God now begins our redemption?
H. DVARIM & TISHA B'AV (from Rav Yehuda Henkin of Otzer Haposkim and Tzahal Reserves)
Moshe here recounts only two aspects of Israel's desert experience-- the appointment of judges (1:15) and the chronology of Israel's wars and non-wars. Israel refused to enter Canaan after the spies' report; then a minority tried to invade it without God's support and fell. Years later, God ordered Israel to avoid war with Edom, Moav and Amnon. Moshe recalls those peoples' own wars and Israel's conquest of Sichon and Og. He ends with the agreement of the 2 1/2 Jewish Jordanian tribes to lead the invasion of Canaan. Moshe recounts all the other episodes, tho predating these, later in Chs. 4-10, e.g. the Decalogue and the Golden Calf Disco-Fiasco.
How does our portion relate to Tisha B'Av? Its themes are proper leadership and knowing when and whom to fight-- their lack caused the defeat of the 2nd Commonwealth in 70 C.E. Rav Yochanan declared: "The excessive humility of R. Zecharya b. Avkilus destroyed our temple... and exiled us from our land (Gittin 56a)". This leader's bad decision led to revolt against Rome. "The second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred (Yoma 9b)". This refers to internecine strife between Jewish factions, who fought each other rather than the Romans (cf. Satmar vs. Habad, Vishnitz vs. Vishnitz, Bibi vs. Dovid). Thus Israel entered and lost a war against Rome, initiating our 1900 year exile. Israel's merit didn't suffice for God to intervene and rescue them from their mistakes, tho they were occupied with "Torah, commandments and acts of lovingkindness". See my Responsa, Bnai Banim 1:191-6. Thus terror accompanies our mourning-- God doesn't always save Israel from its errors and sins (cf. Oslo; Rambam writes the Jews of Marseilles that the Jews could still have saved themselves and their land from Rome, despite their sins, had they sacrificially learned well military and political science, rather than nonsensical astrology). The Talmud quotes Proverbs 28:14-- "Fortunate is he who's constantly afraid". With fear of God in our hearts and lessons of Tisha B'Av in our minds, we can overcome periods of grief-- may we live to witness the speedy rebuilding of the Temple. Many view living in Israel today as only a rabbinic command-- better are those who so live here than those who trumpet Aliya as a Torah duty while living abroad!
I. JUDAISM IN JEOPARDY
Moshe, in Dvarim, warns Israel not to repeat their failures of faith and imitate alien perverse cultures-- if they wish to remain in Israel and fulfill their mission; so great rabbis always tried their best to stem tidal waves of corruption, loss of faith and knowledge, and assimilation among their flock. Rebbe's Mishna saved the oral law, the Besht's Hassidic revolution breathed life into broken souls and bodies, Hirsch's combination of Torah and enlightened worldliness set the model for modern religious Jewry, and Shlomo Carlebach's songs and stories revived jaded souls, suffering existential despair. So today's rabbis face vast Jewish ignorance and assimilation to contemporary Coca Cola and Playboy "culture" in both Israel and the Diaspora. 3 Jerusalem groups met two years ago (7/95) to try to stem the tide:
1) The Rabbinical Council of America held a 3 day conference on the rapid slide down the slippery slope of de-Judaization among Israel's secular society**; it was attended by many leading American and Israeli Orthodox rabbis, some Edot Mizrach. Stimulating and informative speakers probed the problems and suggested solutions. The sessions were from 10-1, followed by a 1-3 "luxury lunch" program. Tho very little written material was provided, attendees were both broadened in their perception of the problem and aroused to do whatever they can to solve it. Both Eli Schweid and Shubert Spero stressed democracy as a sine qua non for a viable Jewish State of Israel; Spero claims that each exile is a preparation for the next attempt to create a model "kingdom of priests and holy nation"; this one was so long as we had to wait for all mankind to develop democratic social, political and economic models for such a viable Israel-- Israel is to adopt great innovations of non-Jews in government, as in all secular realms (cf. "I'll set a king over me as all the nations about me-- Deut. 17:14"-- see E. above; cf. Yisro).
** see I. E. Mozeson and Lois Stavsky's Jerusalem Mosaic, Young Voices From The Holy City, $20 from TOP; thank God, Isaac is recovering from a near fatal heat stroke at Hadassah Ein Kerem.
The RCA passed resolutions calling upon the government to foster traditional Jewish values and identity among the general public; Political matters, even Jerusalem, were omitted, for maximal impact and support-- Kol Hakavod to Rav Sharfman and his collegues. Rav Shalom Gold succinctly noted that while great Torah scholars' opinions are important, even long after their death, we never know how they'd react under different circumstances (see Rav Tzvi Shechter's Nefesh Harav, pp. 23-4); thus even Rav JBS might not favor trading any land for peace with today's unstable PLO; Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook might urge us to even give up the Golan to avoid war in an age of such powerful high-tech weapons.
It's hard to gauge the real changes such a conference can engender-- at least they're tried. Unfortunately, one speaker rephrased "Yeshivasha Bitul", chauvanist negation of others, in sophisticated parlance, claiming that Christianity and secular humanism, as Reform and Conservative Judaism, were bankrupt and finished-- the world and Bosnia awaits its salvation from the RCA and other inspired and inspiring soulful and joyful Orthodox Jews (cf. Shlomo and the Rebbe)!!! God probably rejects this claim, as it's not true. While others have their problems too, they have many real and great accomplishments, e.g. the nuns who care for critically ill Jews near Jaffa Gate, great medical advances, Yonatan Netanyahu at Entebbe, Operation Solomon, etc. Much broader Rav Eliyahu Benamozegh, as Rav JBS, Rav Kook, Rav Hirsch, and Rav Chaim Hirshenson, appreciated the good in all men and cultures, while stressing their return to their Hebraic origins as the Messianic era approaches (Israel and Humanity, $35 from TOP). So Meiri was far more tolerant and outgoing than Rambam and others-- see Exclusiveness and Tolerance by Jacob Katz, one of Chayim Soloveichik's main mentors.
2) The Shalom Hartman Institute's annual Rabbinic Seminar brings rabbis of all persuasions and sexes, plus a few non-Jewish theologians, to learn Torah together for a few weeks, mornings and afternoons. Loads of study materials are provided. Theological disputes are avoided, in an atmosphere of mutual respect-- Rav Yosef Soloveichik often criticized self-righteous Orthodox Jews who feel superior to others in God's eyes, and those who ignore the achievements of those of other faiths and secularists (Rambam, M. T. Tshuva 3:2, says that only God can judge anyone in totality, tho we all can and should lovingly criticize our own and others' ideas and behavior-- one 51% good is a tzaddik, 51% bad a rasha!). Rav Dovid Hartman expounded his current stress on quiet mundane day-to-day "misnagdic" commitment, balanced thought and responsibility, rather than personal and social highs and peak moments, e.g. 1948 and the 6 Day War, to primarily devote attention to his children and grandchildren, rather than world renowned guests, at his seder. He's disappointed with modern Zionism and Israel, so lacking in Jewish content, while keenly stressing its great accomplishments.
While no resolutions were passed, the Hartman Institute and its affiliates have great impact on even the most secular, who sense their respect and appreciation. Daniel Hartman and Noam Tziyon lead secular teachers and principals in developing Jewish enrichment and awareness programs for their schools at the Institute; their educational guidelines are also followed in several relgious public schools, e.g. the Jewish Quarter's.
3) Just One Life, directed by Rav Macy Gordon, presented its 6th annual Jewish Medical Ethics Lecture by Rav Dr. Moshe Tendler: "Confidence Misplaced: The Ethics of a Doctor Who Terminates Life"; the 400-500 attendees, not all observant Jews, indicate appreciation of both the speaker and the issue. Tendler's beautiful blend of God's Torah and Man's wisdom-- he's learned so much from both the greatest rabbis and the greatest scientists, mostly non-Jewish-- reflects his own truly traditional great appreciation of Gentile wisdom. This important cause tackles one of secular Israel's greatest security problems-- a low Jewish birth rate; they save many beautiful Jewish children from murderous abortion. By aiding it, all can perform Kohelet's great mitzva of creating life in God's Image, even in one's old age-- "In the morning sow your seed and in the evening let your hand lie not fallow" (11:6, per Yev. 62b).