Devarim 5764

June 23, 2009

7 min read


Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

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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 definitely feel sad over his lack of appreciation and his inability to feel this appropriate emotion.

July 26th, Monday evening starting at sunset through Tuesday evening, 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 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 62 years later, 132 CE.

  5. The Jews of England expelled in 1290.

  6. Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed, and many Jewish communities obliterated.

  7. The Jews of Spain were expelled in 1492.

  8. World War One broke out on Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Russia declared
    on Germany. German resentment from the war set the stage for the

  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.

  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 read in the synagogue Eicha, the book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah). We also say Kinot, special poems recounting the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. With the lights dimmed, we sit on low stools in synagogue as a sign of mourning.

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, change ourselves and only then will we be able to make a better world.

The Complete Tisha B'Av Service by Rabbis Avrohom Chaim Feuer and Avie Gold is helpful to understand the day and the service. It is available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. If you wish to delve deeper, I recommend going to There are 35 articles to help understand Tisha B'Av -

The story is told that Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B'Av. As his entourage passed a synagogue he heard wailing and crying coming from within; he sent an aide to inquire as to what had happened. The aide returned and told Napoleon that the Jews were in mourning over the loss of their Temple. Napoleon was indignant! "How come I wasn't informed? When did this happen? Which Temple?" The aide responded, "They lost their Temple in Jerusalem on this date 1,700 years ago." Napoleon stood in silence and then said, "Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will survive to see it rebuilt!"

Torah Portion of the Week

This week we begin the last of the Five Books of Moses, Deuteronomy (which is the Greek name for the book of Devarim "Words" - as it is called in the original Hebrew). The Book is the oration of Moses (Moshe) before he died. It is the preparation of the Jewish people for entering and living in the Land of Israel. Moshe reviews the history of the 40 years of wandering the desert and gives rebuke so that the Jewish people will learn from their mistakes. It is always good to give reproof right before one dies. 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.


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

In recalling the story of the spies, the Torah states:

"And they said, 'The land which the Lord, our God, is giving us is good.' "

Rashi understands these to be the words of Joshua and Caleb, the good spies; the Chasam Sofer says that these could also be the words of the other spies who were against going up into the land. The other spies could have meant that since the land is so good, the inhabitants will fight for it and not let us win.

Our lesson: When one praises you, do not assume anything negative; when you praise others, be careful that your words cannot be taken negatively. It is important to communicate clearly and unequivocally.

(or Go to

Jerusalem  7:07
Guatemala 6:14  Hong Kong 6:49  Honolulu 6:54
J'Burg 5:19  London 8:41  Los Angeles 7:42
Melbourne 5:05  Miami 7:52  Moscow 8:33

New York 8:01  Singapore  6:59


It's not what you're willing to die for;
it's what you're willing to live for.

In Loving Memory of
Manea Sterental

With thanks to
Michael P. Evans
for his dedication

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