Devarim - Weekly Torah Portion
Forty years have come and gone and in just a few weeks the journey into the Promised Land will commence. Moses stands up before the crowd and begins his summary of the journey. We start our readings from the book of Deuteronomy, the book which summarizes our journey of reading throughout the year of the Pentateuch. We have studied the words many times over and still that image of the old man Moses that jumps out at us from the ancient words, the end of which we know so well, is heartbreaking. A leader who knows his days are numbered. Who realizes that he is not going to be the one to lead his people, the people who he had led through tough days, great challenges and unbelievable miracles. For him this is the end of the road song. A summary of a great leader who knew successes and failures, who has suffered disappointments, and who is frustrated because he is not going to cross the river Jordan and complete the long and demanding voyage.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat of Vision, the Shabbat which always happens before the 9th day of the month of Av when we read “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem”. He begins with the words, “Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth” echoing the words of Moses from the end of the book of Deuteronomy, “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth”. The Prophet cries, “Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner, And a donkey its master’s manger, But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” And immediately we can imagine the words of Moses coming out, “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked— You are grown fat, thick, and sleek— Then he forsook God who made him, And scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New gods who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread.”
That which has happened generations ago on the 9th day of the month of Av cannot be changed. Once history happens it cannot be turned around, nor modified. It is with us for all its drawbacks and opportunities. That which has been done cannot be salvaged. Nevertheless there is an opportunity to study what it was that went wrong, come up with sound conclusions, understand that which had happened so that we can prevent it from reoccurring. Moses warns the people of that, and Isiah has to do so once again because the lesson was not learned. The prophet is furious, “How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.” We read about the results of this behavior in the scroll of Lamentations, that begins with the same call איכה, “How lonely sits the city That was full of people! She has become like a widow Who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the [a]provinces Has become a forced laborer! She weeps bitterly in the night And her tears are on her cheeks; She has none to comfort her Among all her lovers. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies.”
It is way to easy to accuse others of all the problems of the world, then and now. The prophet requests us to think of it differently, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” He demands that not only from the leaders, rather he points it to everyone. It is a matter of doing the deeds rather than criticizing others, from a far, from the other side. A change of oneself, not only a demand for the change of another. A relentless fight to advance the rights of those whose rights are being disregarded. Isiah eloquently describes the change, “I will also turn My hand against you, And will smelt away your dross as with lye And will remove all your alloy.” What a brilliant metaphor of extracting from the people all which is bad and downgrading, that which causes corruption, injustice, and lack of compassion.
The prophet sums it up briefly, “Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 24 July 2020, 4 Av, 5780