Devarim 5773 – Gilayon #807


SHABBAT SHALOM


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Parshat Devarim

For only og

king of the bashan remained

From the rest of the rephaim.

Look, his bedstead, and iron bedstead,

Is it not in rabbah of

ammonites?

Nine cubits its length

And four cubits its width by the cubit of a man.

(Devarim 3:11)

 

 

For only Og king of the Bashan

This is the reason the Holy One, blessed be He, told him: "Have no

fear of him."

Look, his bedstead – the

cradle of an infant child… an iron cradle, because he was very strong, and

when he would stretch he would smash a wooden cradle, therefore they made it of

iron. [the reason for explaining that it was made for

an infant is] because an adult who has intelligence has no need of an iron bed.

. Look, it is in Rabbah of the Amonites

it still lies in the place of his childhood so that it arouses amazement

at his great size even as an infant, but it is not usual to display an adult

bed in a single place, but he has beds in many locations.

(Rashbam ibid.,

ibid.)

 

For only Og king of the Bashan

remained –The first letters of this fragment [in its original Hebrew] form

an acrostic – mearahcave. This

is because, as is known, Og

is Eliezer (Tractate Sofrim 21, 9), who

is stationed at the Me'arat HaMakhpelathe Cave of Makhpela,

burial site of the Patriarchs, as is explained in the Talmud (Bava Batra 48a).

(Imre Noam on the Torah, Parashat

Devarim)

 

 

Tisha ba'av:

what it means to remember

Mordechai Beck

If,

as Oscar Wilde is reputed to have observed, "Experience is the name we

give to our failures," then Tisha B'Av is the Jewish experience writ large.

On

the verse in Ecclesiastes "A time to weep," Rashi

observes: "This refers to Tisha B'Av." Though he had a wide range of possibilities – he

himself lived in Christian Europe at the beginning of the Crusades – Rashi saw in this day the quintessential nature of Jewish

experience. When Jews cry, it is for the destroyed Temple, for an unredeemed world.

Yet

why, it may be asked, does the great sage not address here the issue of private

loss – of parents, children, a loved one. Why does he

prefer to focus on a loss which is abstract, deep in history, distant? Is there

no connection between public and private mourning?

Perhaps

his view is formed by his sagacious forbears and in contrast to popular

sentiment. To mourn in the abstract is initially more complex than to weep for

someone we have known, but paradoxically such mourning is far more durable.

The loss of

kith or kin fades as all those who knew them succumb themselves to the ravages

of time. But the loss of a symbol transcends generations. In the words of

Amihai (From: Open, Closed, Open):

Verses for

the Day of Remembrance, a song of rememberance

For those who

died in war, the generation of rememberers, too, is dying out,

Half in good

old age, half in bad old age,

And who will

remember the rememberers?

Were

something similar to the destruction of the Temple to occur today (and certain

parallels come to mind immediately), the response would be obvious – huge media

coverage of the dying and the dead, graphic 'footage' of savage destruction,

the endless display of human misery on television and in the newspapers. The

audience would remain impotent, adding their silence to the anguish of the

victims. Yet as with much media coverage its 'shelf-life' is limited – a few

weeks, a few days or even hours, until another disaster occurs and the focus

switches elsewhere.

By

contrast, the Rabbis did not use Tisha B'Av primarily to recall horrors. A number of anecdotes do

appear in the Talmud, for example in the Tractate of Gittin

which describes the parlous condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the years of siege leading to

the destruction. Yet descriptions of war and pillage are far more numerous in

the apocryphal Books of the Maccabees and in

Josephus' "The Jewish Wars."

Similarly,

when the Rabbis sought out an appropriate text for the day, they did not take a

contemporary account of the actual events but rather the haunting Book of

Lamentations, which is a poetic version of what the prophet Jeremiah witnessed

at the destruction of the first temple, centuries before the rabbis flourished.

Poetry is a sop against grief; it gives us distance from that which would be

otherwise overwhelming. The inspired muse outlasts transitory human pain.

According

to Professor David Roskies, this approach was intentional:

I'm convinced the rabbis knew exactly

what they were doing. They knew how to select events. Not everything was

religiously significant. Many historical narratives had to be eliminated in

order to allow the new Rabbinic Judaism to emerge. The sages understood that

you couldn't mourn day in and day out. The Karaites

donned sackcloth and ashes to bewail the ruins of the Temple. Their act was written out of Rabbinic

Judaism, anathematized.

Roskies' books – "Against the Apocalypse,"

"The Literature of Destruction" and latterly "A Bridge of

Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling" – confront the question of

what is remembered and what is not, what becomes canonized and what is

neglected or forgotten:

The normative system of recording and

coding events remained in place until the 19th

century; to have lasted over such a long time and through so many dispersions

is really an extraordinary feat. Moreover, the repertory of the historical

events was expanded very little. If you look at the additions to the kinnot (dirges) for Tisha B'Av, only those referring to the burning of the Talmud in Paris in the 13th century, the Crusades, or the

massacre at LeBois are included insofar as they fit

the schema of the day. Elsewhere, events are telescoped and then commemorated

on the same date. These are Rabbinic strategies for

remembering events, as though they reoccur throughout history. It's a kind of

ecology of memory.

But

this model breaks down. In the past two centuries many Jews have reacted

differently to disaster:

"The

first thing the Haskala (Enlightenment) movement

did," observes Roskies, "was to challenge

the theology of Jewish suffering – that sin and retribution are the driving

forces of Jewish history. But then they were confronted with the need to find

an alternative: "If it was not from God, where was it from?" The

members of the Haskala began to examine the immediate

historical context, and document each event on its own terms – to be specific.

Why

in 1871,

for example, was there a pogrom in Odessa?

What could possibly have prompted the non-Jews? Things were going so well, Odessa was the El

Dorado of the South. What was the explanation: Was it

because Jews were isolated, or because they were so steeped in medievalism that

they were easy prey to outside forces? And what was the answer – social

revolution, emigration, Zionism? Were these ideological responses only to

catastrophes?"

These

questions reflect a critical turning point in modern Jewish consciousness. They

come to a head in responses to the Holocaust, which many see as eclipsing even

the destruction of the Temple.

Even Elie Weisel's first book "Night" ends with a call for

revenge: Jews go out in search of Nazis! Yet look what happens. Francois

Mauriac compares Weisel to Jesus because he has come

from the Kingdom of the Dead, he is a witness. Christian theology turns the Shoah into a mystery. Once it is appropriated by another

audience – here, a Christian-French one – it loses is specifically Jewish

dimension.

This

interpretation of events also influences the Jewish world.

"We

make video testaments by old survivors, but they are no substitute for a new

liturgy," asserts Roskies.

The "March of the Living"

on European soil I call the stations of the cross.

Young, sensitive school children are sent to these stations – Maidenek, Auschwitz, etc.,

then taken to the Kotel – after

the suffering comes the resurrection. The Shoah has

been turned into something outside history, totally existential.

Yet

the alternative, of keeping silent, is also no solution.

"I

haven't yet said this in print, " confides Roskies, "but I think it is true that Holocaust-deniers

among us are to be found among the Ultra-Orthodox. Their return to

pre-Holocaust styles of dress, outward appearance, suggests that the Holocaust

didn't really effect us, or our relation to God."

A

distant echo of Roskies' concern is hinted at in a

story related in the Mishna (Nazir

5;4). A group of diaspora Nazarites reach Jerusalem in order to

sacrifice their obligatory offering at the end of their period of vows. When

they reach Jerusalem they discover that the Temple is destroyed.

Though one sage, Nahum the Mede, excuses their vows, the majority opinion

declares that their vows are still binding. How is this possible when it is

flagrantly clear that they are unable to expedite their sacrifice without the Temple?

It

is similarly related of the 18th

century Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev that every

time he wrote a marriage contract, he would declare that the wedding would take

place in the restored Jerusalem.

But if, by the time of the wedding day, the messiah had not arrived, it would

take place in Berdichev!

Thus, too, the Mishna. The Rabbis

are not being perverse; rather, their decision may be read as a plea to God:

restore our Temple,

otherwise how will these pious Nazarites be able to fulfill

the vows they made to You!

Tisha B'Av is thus a reminder

about the function of Jewish memory, not just for us but for God too. Jewish

history is not, as the fashionable feminist critique would have it – His Story

– it is also and centrally Our Story, a working through of the covenant to

which both sides have obligated themselves to fulfill. Without placing

ourselves at the center of this dialogue the meaning we give to our collective

existence cannot sustain memory. Without bringing God into our historical

equations, memory has little meaning.

Mordechai

Beck is a Jerusalem-based artist and writer.

 

Transcription of the

torah into seventy tongues

Is an expression of its

universal message

"On the other side of the

Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe undertook to expound this

Teaching"

(Devarim 1:5)

 

"To expound this teaching"

he explained it in seventy languages.

(Rashi)

 

"And on those stones you

shall inscribe every word of this Teaching, explained well."

(Devarim 27:5)

 

"Explained

well" – in seventy tongues.

(Rashi)

 

In the Tractate Sotah (32a), Chazal elucidate "explained well" in

line with "Moshe undertook to expound this Teaching". "Explained

well", then, teaches that the words must be elucidated and

understandable. From this they learned that that copy of the Torah included translation

so as to facilitate comprehension by the nations of the world. Israel is far

from the particularism attributed it by others; from

the outset it saw its mission as bringing spiritual and moral salvation to all

humanity. With the entry of the Torah into Eretz Yisrael, future redemption of both Israel and all

nations commenced. Yet more. The Talmud (ibid.) teaches that this translation

included the reason for the expulsion of the Canaanites tribes: "lest

they teach you to do all that …" – this reason, too, was brought to

the attention of these nations, and was repeated and explained in this copy of

the Torah, so that this be known and understood by all the nations of Canaan;

they can expect expulsion if they persist in their views and their idolatrous

ways. If, however, they return to observance of the general mitzvot

of humanity, there is no reason to deny them the right to dwell in the land.

(Hirsch, Devarim 27:8)

 

"…but (in the time of) the

Second Temple, when they engaged in Torah and mitzvot and good deeds – why was it destroyed? Because

there existed baseless hatred, thus teaching us that baseless hatred is

comparable to three sins – idolatry, incest, and bloodshed.

(Bavli, Yoma 9b)

 

"…for the Second Temple

was destroyed because of baseless hatred, and – because of our many sins – we

are still not cleansed of this sin; therefore the son of Yishai

has not yet come. The conclusion, then, is that the sins of the First Temple

were between man and the Omnipresent, i.e., idolatry, which is the opposite of "You

shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul," and

the sin of the Second Temple was between man and his fellow, i.e., baseless

hatred, which is the opposite of "You shall love your fellow as yourself."

(Sefer HaShelah, Taanit 57)

 

What is the connection between

Parashat Devarim, the

Vision of Isaiah, and the Ninth of Av?

Shabbat "Devarim"

is "Shabbat Hazzon" the Shabbat of the Vision, the Shabbat preceding the Ninth of Av …at first

blush there would seem to be no connection between this harsh haftara and the parasha itself.

The parasha does not deal with destruction, but with

building; it is Moshe's summing up of the journey of the Children of Israel on

their way to the Land. He recounts all the failures occasioned by the generation

of the desert; but despite all these failures, they reached the Land …they

had already conquered the lands of Sihon and Og, converting them into lands of Israel; it is assured

that they will conquer all the land and will replace the earlier inhabitants,

and the land will be an inheritance for them. 

One gets the impression that the

people will inherit the land, and that others will make way for them,

regardless of Israel's

character, its behavior, and its actions. This would seem to be something new

in history. The words are quite explicit: "Behold, I have given you the

land …come and inherit the land which God swore to Avraham,

Yitzhak, and Yaakov, and to their descendants after them."

But let us consider: Amidst all

these words which imply a uniqueness of the Jewish people in terms of its

God-decreed historical destiny, there are references to other nations, to

neighbors of the Jewish people and their lands, including nations which are Israel's

historical enemies. This is quite surprising, for it would seem that there is

no direct connection to the matter of the giving over the Land of Canaan

to the Jewish people. With regard to Edomites: "Do

not stir yourselves up against them, for I will not give you of their land so

much as the sole of a foot can tread on, for as a possession to Esav I gave the hill-country of Se'ir." The

same terms of inheritance or dispossession appears in reference to another

nation, one which is not only the Israelite nation, but is actually its enemy…

And just like in the case of Israel's displacing of the Canaanites, we are

told that in that in the very same land which is today the Land of Moab,

there once dwelt the Emites, and they were destroyed

by the Moabites…

What is the significance of all

the accounts of other nations' histories, of conquests and displacements at the

hands of others? It is to teach us that Israel's uniqueness lies not in

historical events. All human history – that of the Jewish people and that of

all other nations of the world – is either totally the natural course of

events, or is totally divinely determined. If there is something unique about

the Jewish people, it lies not the conquest of the

Land nor in its settlement, nor in its displacement of other nations – it lies

in its obligations within this land, in the responsibilities imposed upon it

and not upon other nations. God also displaced other peoples to give the

nations their land. Therefore there lies deep significance in the fact that

these matters are read on Shabbat Hazon, before Tisha B'Av.

(Leibovitz,

Remarks on the Weekly Parasha, pp. 111112)

 

 

 

 [In the days of

] the Second Temple

they were busy with Torah and mitzvot 

and deeds of kindness – why was it destroyed? Because they bore

undeserved hatred.

(Yoma 9b) 

 

And if we were destroyed, and the world destroyed together

with us, because of

undeserved hatred, we will again be built up, and the entire world

will be rebuilt,

through undeserved love.

(Rabbi A.I Kook, ztz"l, Orot Ha-Kodesh 324) 

 

Following the initiative of our dear member, Prof. Gerald

Cromer z"l,

this year, as in past years, we shall visit the grave of

Yitzhak Rabin

on the night of Tisha Be-Av, Monday 15.07.13 at 20:30 hours. 

 

Entry has been organized under permission of the military

cemetery.

Vehicles may be driven to the parking lot near the grave,

and

the path will be illuminated for pedestrians.

We will hold a Ma'ariv service,

including the reading of Eikhah and Kinot near the grave.

Please bring Kinot, Eikhah,

and candles.

 

 

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