This week is Parshas Devorim – we begin the book of Deuteronomy.
This sefer (book) is the repeat of all the laws and the things the Jews went through, final rebuke of Moshe before he dies, and warnings for the future – a review course, so to speak, given by Moshe before he died.
If you scan through this week’s Parsha, you see Moshe talks about how he led the Jews through the desert and how they rebelled and how they got to this point of being just on the verge of finally entering the land of Israel. Why is Moshe rehashing old history? My father always pointed out the lesson learned from this intro that Moshe gave – until you do good for someone, you cannot really rebuke them nor can you tell them which end is up. If, however, you have stood by someone, it is more acceptable to then be able to censure them. Moshe is showing the Jews how he stood by them, led them, defended them – so that when he will rebuke them or when he will tell them what is good to do in life, they will be more likely to say, “he cared about us, so we should give credence to what he is telling us about our behavior.”
The first verse says that Moshe spoke these things to “all of the Jews” – what is the significance of the word ALL – to show us that no one can say, this doesn’t pertain to me. I can’t say, ‘I’m just a debt-laden, floozy living in NY, Moshe didn’t mean me’. Nope. He meant me. And you. He meant each and every Jew. The words of Torah, the words of rebuke against sin, are for all of us.
The Haftorah this week is the final of the rebuke weeks and is extremely harsh – being that this week is the week of Tisha B’av. The portion read is from the book of Isaiah (Yeshayahu). This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Chazon, which is the word that begins this week’s Haftorah.
Chapter 1: “The vision of Yeshayahu…”
Verse 2: “listen heaven and hearken earth, because G-d has spoken, ‘Sons I’ve reared and raised and they rebelled against me.” This is the beginning of the end, the curses that Moshe said would happen to us if we didn’t listen. Way back when Moshe was about to die, he had brought as witness heaven and earth that if we don’t do the Mitzvot we would be punished. Therefore, at this time when the punishment is coming, Yeshayahu calls to the “witnesses”, to the heaven and the earth, to hear the final warning that if we don’t repent, it will be bad for the Jews.
Verse 3: “an ox knows his buyer, the donkey is familiar with his owner’s barn, but the Jews they don’t know and don’t think.” Dumb animals sometimes act smarter than mankind. You give a dog warmth, some food, some companionship and it becomes loyal. You buy an ox and feed it and it recognizes you. The donkey knows how to return to its stall in the barn where it is safe. And we, do we recognize our “owner”, the Power that gives us our food and safety?
Verse 4: “woe to a nation that sins, a people heavy with crimes…sons who destroy, they left G-d…they strayed backwards” Disraeli once was jeered at for being a Jew, and he said, “when my ancestors were in the desert receiving the word of G-d, your ancestors were naked savages worshipping idols” or something of that ilk. When we move away from a G-d centered life we are actually slipping backwards into uncivilized chaos.
Verse 5: “Why should you be hit more…every head has an illness and all hearts are in anguish.” G-d doesn’t want us to have pain. He wants us to return. Yet, even as the punishment begins to be meted out, we are stubborn, not letting go of our wickedness, necessitating more punishment. Does each and every person need to have heartbreak in order to wake up to G-d??
The next few verses describe how desolate, destroyed and alone the land of Israel was from the destruction .
Verse 9: “Had G-d not left over some remnant, we would almost be like Sodom…”
We are promised that “netzach Yisroel lo Yeshaker” — the eternity of the Jewish people is no lie – there will always be Jews, not because we are such hardy survivors able to withstand destruction, but because G-d in His mercy always leaves a remnant of our people to begin building again after each time we need to be punished.
Verse 11: “Why do I need your many sacrifices, says Hashem, I’m sated…the blood of animals I don’t want.” Verse 12: “when you come before Me, who asked this from your hands, tramplers of the courtyard.” Verse 13: You shall no longer bring meaningless offerings, it is an repugnance to Me, your Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos and Holidays…” verse 14: “….it was upon Me as a burden which I am sick of carrying.”
We often think we are doing G-d a favor with our praying, our learning, with our “spirituality” but when we trample on the values G-d gave us, He doesn’t want us being spiritual with Him. When someone robs others and gives a tithe of that to charity, what is he saying? G-d says that He is sickened when wrongdoers play righteous, doing “favors for G-d” by praying or keeping Shabbos….THEREFORE
Verse 15: “And when you hold out your palms, I will hide My eyes from you, even if you pray much, I will not hear, your hands are full of blood.”
It bothers me when folks ask where was G-d during the Holocaust – -why didn’t He hear the anguished cries. Folks, this verse says it – if we wrong each other, if we rob and steal and kill and maim and embarrass and taunt – G-d promises He will then so-to-speak stop up His ears to our most bitter of prayers and “ignore” us, allowing our enemies free reign. What can we do, then?
Verse 16: “Wash, cleanse, remove the bad from on you before My eyes, stop the bad.” Verse 17: “Learn how to do good, search out justice, strengthen the robbery victims, have justice for the orphan and fight for the case of the widow.”
The steps to Teshuva – there are ten. You need to get rid of bad, then do good. If you note, it is about setting right injustices in the world. Then, and only then, would G-d stop punishment that we deserve.
Then G-d says in the next few verses, that if we do that, setting injustices straight, then He will cleanse way our other sins as if they never happened.
Verse 19: “If you are willing and listen, you will eat the best of the land.”
We could have it so good, Chevrah, if only we stood on the side of justice and righteousness, if only we took up the fight of the oppressed.
Verse 20: “but if you refuse and rebel, swords shall consume you, for the mouth of G-d has spoken”
The choice is ours, in those days, as well as in our days – repent, have good. Don’t, then don’t blame G-d when He fulfills His vow to destroy us in our wickedness.
The next verses blame the leaders, for they should have set the way for us, but were too busy chasing after fortunes, and thereby becoming corrupt.
Verse 25: “I will turn my hand upon you, and I will purge away your dross like with lye, and I will remove all your tin.”
How does gold or silver become refined –through extreme heat or chemical processes that take away the bad from the good. Punishment of G-d is not merely vindictive. Rather it is a process of removing the bad Jews from the few who will end up purified from the hells we go through. Just as silver must be purified by heat, if the Jews don’t return to G-d on their own will, G-d will purify our nation through extreme pressures.
Verse 27: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and will repent through charity.”
No injustice can be allowed in our nation. Chevra, you see or hear about an injustice, set it right, champion the cause of the underdog, for that is what will redeem our people. Not demonstrations in Times Square is what will redeem us and save our nation. Not editorials and politicking. Justice and Charity!