Devarim 5773 – Gilayon #807
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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
Nine cubits its length
And four cubits its width by the cubit of a man.
For only Og king of the
– 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.
For only Og king of the
remained –The first letters of this fragment [in its original Hebrew] form
an acrostic – mearah – cave. This
is because, as is known, Og
is Eliezer (Tractate Sofrim 2
is stationed at the Me'arat HaMakhpela – the
burial site of the Patriarchs, as is explained in the Talmud (Bava Batra 48a).
(Imre Noam on the Torah, Parashat
what it means to remember
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.
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
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?
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):
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?
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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
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.
this model breaks down. In the past two centuries many Jews have reacted
differently to disaster:
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.
for example, was there a pogrom in
What could possibly have prompted the non-Jews? Things were going so well,
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
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
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
interpretation of events also influences the Jewish world.
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,
then taken to the Kotel – after
the suffering comes the resurrection. The Shoah has
been turned into something outside history, totally existential.
the alternative, of keeping silent, is also no solution.
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."
distant echo of Roskies' concern is hinted at in a
story related in the Mishna (Nazir
5;4). A group of diaspora Nazarites reach
sacrifice their obligatory offering at the end of their period of vows. When
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
is similarly related of the
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
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:
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.
Beck is a Jerusalem-based artist and writer.
Transcription of the
torah into seventy tongues
Is an expression of its
"On the other side of the
"To expound this teaching"
– he explained it in seventy languages.
"And on those stones you
shall inscribe every word of this Teaching, explained well."
well" – in seventy tongues.
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.
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
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
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?
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,
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
historical enemies. This is quite surprising, for it would seem that there is
no direct connection to the matter of the giving over the
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
told that in that in the very same land which is today the
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
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.
Remarks on the Weekly Parasha, pp.
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