Devarim 5771

July 31, 2011

8 min read


Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

GOOD MORNING! What is the saddest day of a person's life?  Most likely it is the death of one of his closest relatives -- father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or spouse.  What if the person felt no sadness over the passing of his closest relatives?  Then he should realize that there is something lacking within himself and examine why he isn't sad.

August 8th, Monday evening through Tuesday night, is Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av.  It is the saddest day in the Jewish year.  What should a person do if he has no feeling for Tisha B'Av?  If a person is Jewish and identifies with being Jewish, then it behooves him to find out why we as a people mourn on this day -- what have we lost?  What did it mean to us?  What should we be doing to regain that which we have lost?  At the very minimum, we should mourn that we don't feel the pain.

In 1967, Israeli paratroopers captured the Old City and made their way to the Wall.  Many of the religious soldiers were overcome with emotion and leaned against the Wall praying and crying.  Far back from the Wall stood a non-religious soldier who was also crying.  His friends asked him, "Why are you crying?  What does the Wall mean to you?"  The soldier responded, "I am crying because I don't know why I should be crying."

Tisha B'Av is observed to mourn the loss of the Temples in Jerusalem.  What was the great loss from the destruction of the Temples?  It is the loss of feeling God's presence.  The Temple was a place of prayer, spirituality, holiness, open miracles.  It was the focal point for the Jewish people, the focal point of our Jewish identity.  Three times a year (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot) every Jew would ascend to the Temple.  Its presence pervaded every aspect of Jewish life -- planning the year, where one faced while praying, where one would go for justice or to learn Torah, where one would bring certain tithes.

On this same day throughout history many tragedies befell the Jewish people, including:

  1. The incident of the spies slandering the land of Israel with the subsequent decree to wander the desert for 40 years.
  2. The destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem by Nevuchadnetzar, King of Babylon.
  3. The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE.
  4. The fall of Betar and the end of the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans 65 years later, 135 CE.
  5. Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade.  Tens of thousands of Jews were killed, and many Jewish communities obliterated.
  6. The Jews of England were expelled in 1290.
  7. The Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492.
  8. World War I broke out on Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Russia declared war on Germany.  German resentment of the Treaty of Versailles set the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.
  9. On Tisha B'Av, deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Tisha B'Av is a fast day (like Yom Kippur, from sunset one evening until the stars come out the next evening) which culminates a three week mourning period by the Jewish people.  One is forbidden to eat or drink, bathe, use moisturizing creams or oils, wear leather shoes or have marital relations.  The idea is to minimize pleasure and to let the body feel the distress the soul should feel over these tragedies.  Like all fast days, the object is introspection, making a spiritual accounting and correcting our ways -- what in Hebrew is called Teshuva -- returning to the path of good and righteousness, to the ways of the Torah.

Teshuva is a four part process:  1) We must recognize what we have done wrong and regret it.  2) We must stop doing the transgression and correct whatever damage that we can, including asking forgiveness from those whom we have hurt -- and making restitution, if due.  3) We must accept upon ourselves not to do it again.  4) We must verbally ask the Almighty to forgive us.

On the night of Tisha B'Av, we sit on low stools (as a sign of our mourning) in the synagogue.  With the lights dimmed -- and often by candlelight -- we read Eicha, the book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah).  We also recite Kinot, a special liturgy recounting the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people.

Learning Torah is the heart, soul and lifeblood of the Jewish people.  It is the secret of our survival.  Learning leads to understanding and understanding leads to doing.  One cannot love what he does not know.  Learning Torah gives a great joy of understanding life.  On Tisha B'Av we are forbidden to learn Torah except those parts dealing with the calamities which the Jewish people have suffered.  We must stop, reflect and make changes.  Only then will we be able to improve ourselves and make a better world.

Tisha B'Av by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer is helpful to understand the day and the service (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242).  If you wish to delve deeper, I recommend going to There are articles to help understand Tisha B'Av -- and check out !  May we all merit that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days!

For more on "Tisha B'Av" go to!


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Torah Portion of the Week

This week we begin the last of the Five Books of Moses, Devarim ("Words").  In English, it is called Deuteronomy (from the Greek meaning "Second Law" -- from deuteros "second" + nomos "law" --perhaps because Moshe repeats many of the laws of the Torah to prepare the Jewish people for entering and living in the Land of Israel).  The Book is the oration of Moses (Moshe) before he died.  Moshe reviews the history of the 40 years of wandering the desert, reviews the laws of the Torah and gives rebuke so that the Jewish people will learn from their mistakes.  Giving reproof right before one dies is often the most effective time to offer advice and correction; people are more inclined to pay attention and to take it to heart.

Moshe recalls what happened at Mt. Sinai, the appointment of judges and administrators, the story of the spies, the prohibition to attack Edom and Moav, the defeat of the Kings Sichon and Og, and how the land of Gilad was given to the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe.

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

In recounting the incident of the people wanting to send spies to find out whether they could conquer the Land of Israel, Moshe says:

"And all of you approached me, and said, 'Let us send people before us to explore the Land for us.' "

Rashi states that this means that the people came to Moshe in a disorderly manner.  Children were pushing the elders and the elders were pushing the children.  What difference does it make that they came in a disorderly manner?  And why is it mentioned in conjunction with the offense of the acceptance of the slander of the spies about the land and the refusal to listen to the Almighty's command to enter the land?

Rabbi Yitchok of Volozhin elucidates that the people might have tried to mitigate their insistence on sending the spies by saying that the idea was good, but the project went astray.  Moshe was telling them that the very fact that they came pushing and shoving, without derech eretz (proper manners), that there was something wrong with the project right from the start.  People who are involved in a project that is truly proper will have appropriate derech eretz at the beginning of the venture.  Since they acted rudely and unruly, they should realize that they were doing something wrong.

Our lesson: We must be aware that if we want people to agree with a project that we wish to engage in, we must speak with proper honor and respect.  And if we find that we are not speaking with proper honor and respect, then we should be aware that our motivation is not on the right level!


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Jerusalem 6:58
Guatemala 6:12 - Hong Kong 6:44 - Honolulu 6:50
J'Burg 5:24 - London 8:24 - Los Angeles 7:33
Melbourne 5:18 - Mexico City 7:50 - Miami 7:46
New York 7:57 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:18


Say what you mean, mean what you say,
but don't say it in a mean way.


In Loving Memory of
My Mother

Rae Zuckerman

Anna & Sol Zuckerman
and family


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