Devarim 5768

June 24, 2009

5 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.

August 9th, Saturday evening through Sunday 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) 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 war on Germany. German resentment from the war set the stage for 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 we hurt. (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.

"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 877-758-3242. If you wish to delve deeper, I recommend going to There are articles to help understand Tisha B'Av - ! 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, Devari ("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.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah portion begins with the words:

"These are the things which Moses spoke to all of Israel" (Deuteronomy 1:1)

The Torah then enumerates what is seemingly a list of places the Jewish people had traveled. The Siphre elucidates that out of respect for the Jewish people, Moses alluded to their transgressions by the name of each place, without being explicit. What can we learn from this?

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman of the famed Hebron Yeshiva comments that a person who is sincerely interested in self-improvement and growth only needs a slight hint that he has done something wrong in order to realize that he needs to improve. Such a person looks for opportunities to make positive changes in himself and uses his own ability to think to fill in the details when someone gives him a hint that he has made a mistake. The Jewish people only needed a hint.

The goal of life is to improve and to be the best that you can be. Just like a person interested in becoming rich will use any tip if he thinks it will be of financial benefit, so should we look for messages which will help us improve. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once asked a shoemaker why he was working so late and with an almost extinguished candle. Replied the shoemaker, "As long as the candle is still burning it is possible to accomplish and mend." From this Rabbi Salanter understood that "as long as the light of the soul is still going, we must make every effort to accomplish and to mend."

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The role of a rabbi is
to comfort the afflicted
and to afflict the comfortable.

Mazal Tov to
Joseph Tobin Messinger
on becoming a Rabbi
Love, The Messinger Family

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Click here for Rabbi Packouz's bio
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