Parashat Devarim – Shabbat Chazon Yeshayahu: Of Doves and Clouds

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Dove Flying
19 Jul 2007

Parashat Devarim – Shabbat Chazon Yeshayahu 5767

Part One: The Essential Characteristic of a Leader

It was common knowledge that these were the final days on earth of the greatest Rav who would ever live, and the feelings of love and longing for the beloved Moshe swelled in the hearts of the entire nation.

In forty years, Moshe had taken them from a deprived existence and depraved society in Egypt and had turned them into God’s chosen people. A sense of anticipation and pride could be felt, for soon Moshe would be making a resume of the past and encouraging the nation to be stout of heart in the future when they would enter Eretz Yisrael.

Moshe ascends the specially constructed platform from which he could see all the people and they could see and hear him:

אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה אל כל ישראל בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה מול סוף בין פארן ובין תפל ולבן וחצרת ודי זהב:

These are the words which Moshe said to all Israel in Trans Jordan in the desert in the wilderness across from Suf between Paran and Tefel and Lavan and Chatzerot and Dee Zahav

Rashi explains that all the places mentioned in this verse allude to the worst sins perpetrated by the nation during the forty years in the desert.

Moshe alludes to the sin of the golden calf, and a sense of uneasiness passes over the people. “Why is Moshe bringing up this old, forgotten matter? Why doesn’t he let bygones be bygones; especially since we had nothing to do with it?”

When Moshe refers to the never-ending complaints and threats to return to Egypt over the years, the feeling of uneasiness turns to consternation because this is not the way a leader bids farewell to his nation.

When Moshe recounts the sins perpetrated at Baal Pe’or and with the Midianite women and the nation’s conduct at the Red Sea, the consternation turns to anger.

As Moshe goes on with his “sin count,” the anger turns to feelings of great shame, because it becomes clear to all that Moshe simply does not like the nation he was commanded to lead. Indeed! Moshe’s soliloquy sounds more as if his great disappointment with the people borders on feelings of disdain.

To be hated by Moshe, the agent of Hashem in this world, reflects Hashem’s feelings toward Am Yisrael. And this repudiation will for all time be indelibly engraved on the Jewish consciousness; that we, as a nation, failed in the expectations of HaShem.

Suddenly Moshe stops; Looks out to the nation and announces:

ה’ אלהי אבותיכם יסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם

The Lord, God of your fathers, may He increase you a thousand fold and bless you as He has said to you

A sense of bewilderment grips the assembled: “If Moshe dislikes us so much, why is he blessing us?”

The answer, I suggest, can be found in parashat Pinchas, which we read two weeks ago.

The commentaries claim that Moshe beseeched HaShem 515 time to rescind His decree banning Moshe from entering the Western side of Eretz Yisrael, beyond the Jordan river. However, in parashat Pinchas Moshe prays to HaShem to appoint a suitable leader who will guide the nation in the liberation of the holy land. With this request Moshe is now reconciled to the inevitable – he will depart from this world without attaining his greatest dream – to enter Eretz Yisrael. What transpired in parashat Pinchas to motivate Moshe to depart from his hope that HaShem might yet rescind the decree, and acceptance of the bitter reality that he will not enter Eretz Yisrael?

Parashat Balak closes with the tragic episode of Zimri ben Salu, leader of the tribe of Shimon, who violated the Torah’s prohibition on conjugal relations with non-Jews. In the wake of his misconduct and others in the Israelite camp, a plague erupted which threatened to annihilate the entire nation.

Pinchas runs to Moshe begging him to act, but Moshe stands by helplessly while encouraging Pinchas to take the initiative in removing Zimri. Pinchas enters Zimri’s tent and thrusts a spear into him and his partner, thereby bringing to a halt the plague which fell upon the people.

At that moment, Moshe suddenly recalls that forty years ago, when he saw an Egyptian task master beating a single Jew, he did not hesitate to come to the defense of the beaten man and kill the Egyptian. But now when the entire Jewish nation is being threatened by the act of Zimri the natural reflex of forty years ago was no longer there.

Moshe contemplates this while sending Pinchas to do the task which was Moshe’s. At that moment Moshe realizes that Hashem is correct. The spontaneity necessary for the leader, who in the fulfillment of HaShem’s desire to grant Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish nation, will have to make difficult and often painful decisions is no longer there in the man Moshe. And perhaps, Moshe thinks, that the whole incident of Zimree came about to prove to him that he had changed in the forty years of leading the nation.

At that moment, Moshe prays to Hashem to appoint a successor who will lead the people in difficult moments, just as Moshe could have done 40 years previous had the Jews entered the land immediately after leaving Egypt, as was originally planned.

As he peers out over the nation, Moshe enumerates the nation’s sins which caused the prolongation of their dessert sojourn from eleven days to forty years. And it was this prolongation which cost Moshe the spontaneity of his younger days, thereby necessitating the appointment of a new leader who will face the task of destroying hundreds of thousands of Cannaanites who will not willingly give up their hold on the holy land.

But as Moshe relates the incidents of history and their effect upon his personal being, he looks out over what he had in fact accomplished. Standing in front of him was a nation of millions of God-fearing men, woman and children who will lay the groundwork for Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael for all time. Rabbis, Judges, tribal leaders, fathers and mothers who will guide the nation in their 4000 future years as God’s chosen people.

Moshe is consumed with love for each and every Jew, and he calls out:

ה’ אלהי אבותכם יסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם

The Lord, God of your fathers, may He increase you a thousand fold and bless you as He has said to you

At that moment it became clear to all that this is the greatest legacy of Moshe, a song of love never before heard between a leader and his people.

Moshe was saying, in effect, that they will forever be the chosen people of HaShem, whose love for every Jew would be eternal because of the special segula (charm) which is inherent in the Jewish soul.

This special segula guarantees that no matter how far we might stray from HaShem’s Torah because of circumstances, we would always return to our “beloved” as stated in Shir Ha’shirim.

The prophet Yeshayahu (60,8) describes the unique segula of the Jewish nation.

Hashem ponders the future return of His children to Eretz Yisrael and asks:

מי אלה כעב תעופינה וכיונים אל ארבתיהם

Who are these who (return to Eretz Yisrael), as a fleeting cloud and as doves to their coops?

What is the difference between a fleeting cloud and flying birds?

A cloud is not capable of moving itself; it is driven in all directions by the wind whose force is beyond the cloud’s ability to control. A bird flies by its own inner force. It navigates according to its intuitive feeling, following the light of the sun, always returning to the place of its origin.

This is what Moshe was telling the Jewish nation: Hashem, the Creator of all human souls, knows the inherent connection between the Jewish soul and Himself, that no matter what the conditions and how far we might stray, the authentic Jewish nation will always return to its source.

The Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael at this very moment is engaged in a war for survival, and in a larger sense for the survival of the human spirit. Islam, which is the most debased and corrupt of all beliefs, seeks to spin its suffocating web around all mankind, but is prevented, to a great degree, by the six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

This summer, thousands of new olim will arrive from North America, France and other places of our exile.

They come as doves returning to their coves, not driven here by anti-Semitism but as free people who choose to return to their source.

Of the millions of Jews who have already returned, a great many have the option to leave this land for more tranquil surroundings. Yet they stay, which in a sense is equal to having a new mitzva of aliya every day.

Moshe’s love for Am Yisrael reflects the love of Hashem for the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. But even among children, there are those who are more devoted to the parents and others who are less. There are children who are like clouds, driven to help their parents because of external forces. There are those who, like doves, are devoted because of their love for the parents. And then there are children who are not like clouds nor like doves, but like stones, which are embedded in their surroundings, not to be moved by the wind nor by their inner selves.

Let us all pray for the peace of Yerushalayim, of Eretz Yisrael, and for the welfare of every beloved soldier of Tzahal.

These young soldiers are the avenue through which Hashem will punish the wicked and usher in the Moshiach.

Part Two: Fulfilling Hashem’s Will

On the first day of the month of Shevat, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended a high place from where he could see the entire camp of Israel, and from where he can be seen and heard.

Beneath him, the camp of Am Yisrael extends kilometer after kilometer, as far as the eye can see in a twelve parsa’ot square, arranged in awe inspiring discipline.

To the north, the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naftali. To the south, the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Gad. To the east, the tribes of Yehuda, Yesachar and Zevulun. To the west, the tribes of Efrayim, Menashe and Binyamin. In the center, the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), the portable bet hamikdash; seemingly protected from all side by the millions of Bnei Yisrael, but in fact extending its protecting wing over Klal Yisrael.

And hovering above the camp, the protecting cloud which provided the Jewish people with comfort and security in their wanderings in the threatening desert.

Moshe Rabbeinu peers out over the millions of Jews for whom he is their savior from torturous bondage, as well as their spiritual mentor. For the last forty years, Moshe had led a chaotic band of undisciplined, disheveled slaves out of Egypt, into the unknown future of desert wanderers. Eighty percent of the nation had died a few days earlier in the plague of darkness. The survivors, in the midst of their mourning, were leaving the fertile land of Egypt to enter the arid desert with no more than a few matzot and some water.

They were a pitiful mass of humanity. Justifiably frustrated in the unknown perilous road they were being led. They asked themselves, “Who is this man Moshe? We know him for only one year, when he suddenly appeared and proclaimed he is God’s messenger. Can we put our future and that of our family’s in the hand of this man?”

A number of people rebelled, threatening repeatedly to return to Egypt. They nearly stoned Moshe to death in their frustration. But little by little, with super human patience, Moshe and his brother Aharon slowly forged this motley rebellious people into God’s chosen people.

The nation, forty years later, became the hope of humanity. The Torah is their guiding light and all were steeped in its knowledge. The Sanhedrin and its system of courts ruled according to the sanctified laws of Hashem. Judges, police, teachers, military men – all talmiday chachamim (learned sages). Truly a nation of scholar – warriors, ready to enter the Holy Land to begin the renaissance of humanity after its fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. The rebellious generation is no longer here. In their place, there stood a young strong nation ready for every challenge, as it prepares to enter Eretz Yisrael to begin the phase of nationhood which will last until the end of time.

Moshe considers all this as he begins his soliloquy, which will conclude not only his leadership but his very life.

He loves the people despite all they had done to him. In his recalling of various unpleasant incidences of the past, Moses merely alludes to them in order to avoid hurting their feelings.

Moshe looks out and can make a bracha achrona (final blessing) on a “job well done”.

But wait! At some point it crosses Moshe’s mind the personal price he had to pay for these achievements.

In the quest for national perfection, Moshe sacrificed his personal life by having to leave his wife Tzipora.

Moshe knows that his two sons will not take his place in the leadership of the nation, but rather his student Yehoshua.

How much ingratitude along the way. The people spoke lashon hara of Moshe accusing him of the worst sins in the Jewish lexicon. Even those close to him conspired against his leadership, including his own cousin, Korach, who Moshe appointed to be one of the four leviim to carry the holy ark between encampments.

And then the most painful stroke of all – his exclusion from entering the Holy Land of his dreams.

How he envies the young boys and girls standing there in front of him. What Moshe would not give to experience what they will in another two and half months. For on the tenth of Nisan, they will cross over the Yarden to take four steps in Eretz Yisrael. But Moshe will remain behind banished from the earthly paradise.

But not only in his life does Moshe suffer, he is also committed to a lonely future. After death his place of burial will remain unknown, The nation will not be able to place a tent of mourning by his grave, They won’t be able to visit it every Sunday and speak to him as if he was still alive, just napping.

The personal price Moshe paid for being Hashem’s messenger was so great that only a man like Moshe could have endured it.

But in here lies the lesson which Hashem’s stoic treatment of Moshe came to teach. That in the performance of Hashem’s will, there cannot exist any personal considerations. In the performance of mitzvot, neither your comfort nor your family’s interests are a consideration.

In the time of our existence in this world, we meet many people, with each one representing a phase in our lives. People enter and then they leave. It is so between husbands and wives (who in fact are the only ones in the family who are not blood related, but united through halachic ties). Parents and children are together for limited periods. Children marry and go off; parents eventually depart. This is the way of the world.

The only permanent relationship; that which commences at one’s birth and indeed much before, and continues for eternity is one’s relationship with the Creator.

Today, we can, as Moshe did 3000 years ago, look out over our national accomplishments. There are today close to six million Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Not people who belong to twelve tribes, but people who have come home from 150 countries and cultures. We meet here after being seperated for 2000 years, but remain similar in so many aspects. We have today the infrastructure of a Torah society. Halachic courts, yeshivot, a fully functioning rabbanit, an army which keeps Shabbat and is mehadrin kasher.

However, we too have paid a dear price for this national renaissance.

The numbers tell the entire story. A nation 3800 years old but numbers today only 13 million is evidence to what we have experienced in our wanderings of 2000 years. We have returned home, and like Moshe Rabbeinu it was at a huge personal cost. The builders of this land came to a desert to reclaim our national homeland. They left parents, wives and children to prepare the land for the millions who will eventually come after them.

But the process is far from over. In some way it is just beginning.

The Jewish nation is now suffering from a memory loss of who we are. It is not national Alzheimer’s, which is incurable, but national amnesia which is curable. We need every God fearing Torah Jew to be with us today in Eretz Yisrael.

We must enter every walk of life and perform our tasks in the spirit and letter of the halacha.

Let every God fearing man and woman, as difficult as it might be, set aside his personal feelings and “obligations” in achievement of the greater goal of fulfilling Hashem’s will, today, in our world, in Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.