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Devarim 5776

Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  What is the saddest day of your life? For most of us, it is the day when someone close to us passes away. For the Jewish people as a nation, the saddest day is the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av -- the day when our Temple in the heart of Jerusalem was destroyed. That is what our tradition teaches us. However, it is hard to relate to the loss of something 2,000 years ago -- especially since we never experienced having the Temple in our lifetime.

August 13th, Saturday evening through Sunday night, is when Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av is observed. Tisha B'Av actually falls out on Shabbat, but since we don't mourn on Shabbat ... or fast -- except when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat -- it is observed the next day.

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 center 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 the 9th of Av 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 in 423 BCE
  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 One 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: Texts, Readings and Insights by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer and Shimon Finkelman 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!


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Torah Portion of the week

Devarim, Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22

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.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When Moses could no longer bear the burden of judging the Jewish people alone, he followed his father-in-law's advice and appointed judges. The Torah tells us that Moses said:

"And I commanded your judges at that time saying, 'listen amongst your brothers' " (Deuteronomy 1:16).

Why did Moses tell them to listen amongst their brethren?

Rashi cites the Sifri (a Midrash) that Moses told the judges to be patient and deliberate in each case that came before them. Even if they had similar cases in the past, they should discuss the present case thoroughly.

Every case is different from any other, and each case should be viewed as entirely new and every detail considered. This applies whenever you become involved in settling quarrels between people. Of course, there are patterns that anyone with experience will recognize, but there will always be factors that make each situation unique. Do not jump to conclusions.

Rather, listen carefully to both sides. Just because one solution worked in a past situation does not mean that it will automatically be effective in a situation that is quite similar though a little bit different. One needs to be creative and flexible. Whenever you try to help people settle quarrels, give the matter your full attention to see what needs to be said and done in this specific situation. By doing this, you will have the merit of bringing peace to many more people than if you rigidly try the exact same approach each time. Why did Moses tell the judges to listen to their brethren? Only by truly listening will they hear the important details that make the case unique.


Candle Lighting Times

August 12
(or go to

Jerusalem 6:50
Guatemala 6:08 - Hong Kong 6:39 - Honolulu 6:45
J'Burg 5:29 - London 8:10 - Los Angeles 7:25
Melbourne 5:24 - Mexico City 7:48 - Miami 7:40
New York 7:39 - Singapore 6:56 - Toronto 8:07

Quote of the Week

Great opportunities come to those who
make the most of the small ones



With Special Thanks to

Mitchell & Karen Kuflik

With Deep Appreciation to

Bob & Zivia Gill


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