Devarim: Serenity and Desire

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Tisha B’av and Devarim (the parsha) make appropriate bedfellows. Chazal find in Moshe’s eicha complaint echoes of Yirmiyahu and future lamentations. Thus the prevalent minhag of chanting that verse in the sad eicha tune. Devarim, Moshe’s retrospective is all about what could have been and what went wrong. Finally, it is a parsha that sows the seeds of Tisha B’av – through the sad episode of the spies.

A proper probe of the meraglim (spies) episode is well beyond our scope; one thing is clear – something went very wrong. On the cusp of sailing under cloud cover into Eretz Yisrael, the spies’ episode waylaid a generation, held back Moshe [our text, Abarbanel and scattered commentaries strongly imply that Moshe’s fate of non-entrance into the land was a result of the sin of the meraglim] and left history and Jewish destiny permanently altered.

For the second time in history our nation cries, but now it is not a cry over lack of protein [meat], it is a cry against Eretz Yisrael: [Bamidbar, 14:1-2]

The entire community arose and raised their voices; and the people wept that night.They railed against Moshe and Aharon— all of Bnei Yisroel— and the entire congregation said to them: “Would we had died in the land of Egypt or in this desert, would that we had died.

There are tears and there are tears. For these cries, we feel the repercussions – a point so poignantly described by Chazal in their characterization of Tisha B’av (1) :

atem bechitem bechiya shel chinam, ani ekva lachem bechiya ledorot

You wept in vain, I will establish it for you as a time of weeping for all generations

We cry now because we should not have cried then. And yet …

I find it so ironic that now it so hard to cry. Al zeh ani bochiya. I cry because I cannot cry. R. Shimshon Pincus zt”l observed that when we attend weddings, even if the connection is tenuous and even if we are just there to dance and mach freilach, we can coax laughter and really feel joy. We know how to laugh and smile (many of us) with the chassan and kallah. And yet when we attend the shiva house to help make the minyan or just to be there, it is impossible to cry with the aveilim; ergo the emotion of sadness is a much deeper avodah (work/service). Thus the rabbis teach that Kol hamitabeil al yerushalayim zoche v’roeh b’simchata. Whoever is able to cry over the loss of Jerusalem will merit to experience the joy.

In recap mode, Moshe characterizes the return of the spies [Devarim, 1:25]:

They took in their hand some fruit of the land and brought [it] down to us. They brought back word to us and said, “Good is the land that Ad-noy, our G-d, is giving us.”

Who said the land was good? For Rashi, these are the lone voices of Yehoshua and Kaleiv. Not so, says Ramban – because why blame an entire nation for following the majority of great people. Thus it was all 12 that said the land was good [v’gam zavat chalav u’dvash hi]

The people respond with an unbelievably troubling line compounded by a more difficult Rashi:

You grumbled in your tents and said, “Because of Ad-noy’s hatred of us, He took us out of the land of Egypt to put us in the hand of the Emorite to destroy us.

The God that did everything for you hates you!?!? Rashi illuminates:

In reality, He loved you, but you hated Him. A popular proverb says, “What is in your heart regarding your friend, [you imagine] is in his heart regarding yourself.”

Projection. We see the world though our little lens. Our vision then is limited by our imagination. If we are small, then the world is tiny. [If you can see the invisible, you can accomplish the impossible].

Still, how can it be that they hated God? Did they not appreciate His munificence, in the form of liberation, the blessing of manna, the salvation at the sea etc. Is this not the nation of Na’aseh V’nishma?

One more pasuk – the one that precedes the words uttered regarding God’s hatred:

But you were unwilling to go up, and you defied Ad-noy, your G-d.

v’lo avitem la’a lot. Much is obscure. Why were you unwilling to go. Was it sheer fright? Did that hold you back from accepting the Torah, from entering the sea. We are left to grasp.

Two approaches in the meforshim:

To Seforno, it was the idolatry that the Jews practiced in Egypt that still troubled them. In other words, as the Jews are on the cusp of fulfilling their destiny, they look backwards and feel really bad about themselves. We can’t possibly be worthy to enter Eretz Yisrael and finish this thing up. Who are we? We are so low.

The Jew hated himself, assumed God felt the same way and then projected beyond. We who are intimately familiar with our own flaws are our own worst enemies. If we know how imperfect we are, then certainly God knows – ergo God hates us and we project back. Serving Hashem begins with feeling good about oneself as a Divine creation, being real with the flaws but recognizing that Hashem always loves us.

Rashi [Kohelet 12] teaches that avitem is connected to passion/desire. You knew it was right to go, but you did not have the passionate desire to go. So many competing desires occupy our lives. The human being is complicated. Passion is not a determinant of truth; nor is truth a predictor of behavior. Why do people exercise – b/c they want to live better or feel better or look better or live longer. So why do people not exercise or eat right or brush their teeth [please feel free to fill in the blank].

When do we do what we should do? Perhaps part of the answer is that in the world of competing desires, it is the burning desire that wins. To the extent that we develop a burning desire to do the ratzon Hashem – we will plow ahead and overcome the real and illusory difficulties.

As we contemplate the loss of the Beit HaMikdash, let us try to compensate by recognizing that God loves us and we need to develop that burning passion to make His will our very own.

With great hope for a rebuilding of our Beit Hamikdash – bimheira biyameinu.

Good Shabbos From Eretz Yisrael,

Asher Brander

1. Talmud, Taanit 28b

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles