In the language of our Sages, the book of Devarim is called
"Mishneh Torah." Some commentaries translate this appellation as "the
repetition of the Torah" (i.e., "mishneh" from the root "shnei" /
"two"). They suggest that every halachah found in Devarim is stated,
or at least alluded to, somewhere in the other books of the Torah. R'
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin z"l (1817-1893; known as the "Netziv"; rabbi
and rosh yeshiva of Volozhin) offers a different explanation:
"Mishneh" means "review," i.e., the main purpose of Sefer Devarim
is to encourage us to delve deeply into, and review, the laws of the
Torah. All of the mussar / rebuke found in this Book also boils down
to this message: Accept upon yourselves the yoke of studying Torah in
depth so that you do not deviate from its laws. True, many laws found
in other Books are repeated in Devarim. The purpose of this
repetition is to teach us to look beneath the surface of the verse.
The peshat / "surface message" of the repeated pasuk or halachah was
already learned elsewhere. Therefore, if you find a verse or law
repeated, look deeper.
R' Berlin continues: The Midrash records that when Hashem
appeared to Yehoshua, he found that prophet studying Mishneh Torah.
This shows the importance of this Book. Similarly, when the Torah
commands the king to write a Torah scroll for himself, the language it
chooses is (Devarim 17:18), "He shall write for himself this Mishneh
Torah." In fact, he is required to write the entire Torah, but the
verse emphasizes writing this Book because of its important message.
Indeed, our Sages teach that it is only this delving into the Torah,
the essence of the Talmud, that serves as the covenant between Hashem
and the Jewish People. (He'emek Davar, Intro. to Devarim)
"These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael . . ."
R' Shlomo Ephraim z"l (rabbi of Prague; died 1619) asks: How was
it possible for Moshe Rabbeinu to address all of the Jewish People?
The word "Yisrael" does not have the same meaning as "Bnei
Yisrael." The latter term refers to all of the Jewish People. In
contrast, "Yisrael" refers to the leadership alone.
Our Sages understand the opening verses of our parashah as a
rebuke for various sins that Bnei Yisrael had committed during the 40
years in the desert. Because it would be incumbent on the leaders to
rebuke their flocks after Moshe's passing, Moshe spoke to the leaders
in verses 1-2 about the people's sins. However, he only alluded to
the sins, rather than mentioning them directly, because he wanted to
teach the leaders how to give rebuke. Rebuke must be subtle. A
direct attack is never successful.
In verse 3 we read: "It was in the fortieth year, in the eleventh
month, on the first of the month, when Moshe spoke to Bnei Yisrael,
according to everything that Hashem commanded him to them." Here,
Moshe begins to rebuke the nation at large. [Note that the verse does
not say that he spoke to the entire nation at once. Perhaps he walked
around the camp and spoke to small groups one at a time.] In light of
the foregoing explanation we can understand why only verse 3 says that
"It was in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month." The timing of
Moshe's address to the leaders is not mentioned. Our Sages learn from
verse 3 that rebuke is most effective when offered shortly before the
death of the one giving it. Otherwise, as time passes, the one who
was rebuked may find fault with the actions of the one who gave rebuke
and may disregard the original rebuke. This, says R' Shlomo Ephraim,
is only a concern vis-a-vis rebuke given to the common person. Moshe
did not have to worry about this when he addressed those in leadership
". . . on the other side of the Jordan, in the desert, in the
Aravah / Wilderness, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran
and Tophel, and Lavan, and Chazerot, and Di-zahav." (1:1)
R' Chaim ben Attar z"l (1696-1743; Italy and Eretz Yisrael)
observes that the name each of these place may allude to a character
trait that Moshe wanted to teach. For example, "the desert" alludes
to the trait of humility, as our Sages have said, "A person should
always behave like a desert" [i.e., humbly, in contrast to a majestic
mountain or a mighty river].
However, R' ben Attar continues, humility should not be taken to
an extreme. For example, a person must not say, "Who am I to give
rebuke to others?" Rather, one must be like the Aravah. The root
"ayin-resh-vet" means pleasant. One must behave in a way that is
pleasing to society. Also, it alludes to "areivut" /
"responsibility." One must feels a responsibility for, and to,
R' Joseph B. Soloveitchik z"l asks: To what end are we still
mourning more than 1900 years after the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed?
What do we want from G-d? Is it the Temple? The building? The
R' Soloveitchik answers: We do ask for all of this, but it is not
our main concern. Rather, what is much more important than the
physical Bet Hamikdash is the closeness to G-d that the Bet Hamikdash
represented. Currently, there is an iron curtain separating us from
Hashem, and we seek its removal.
He continues: If a father and a son do not have a good
relationship, if there is tension between them and they do not
communicate with each other, the father may say, "I want my son back."
The uninitiated observer may ask, "What do you mean? Your son is
right here." However, the father understands that his son can be
right next to him and still be far away.
Similarly, it would be meaningless to us to go to the Bet
Hamikdash and perform the service there if G-d remained distant from
us. Tisha B'Av is the day when we mourn the tragic separation between
G-d and ourselves.
(The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways p. 18)
R' Zalman Rotberg shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bet Meir in
Bnei Brak) writes: The Book of Eichah, in which the prophet Yirmiyah
poured out his heart over the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the
exile, teaches us not only about the past, but about the future. Our
Sages teach that prophecy can be attained only when one is in a state
of joy. This means that Yirmiyah wrote Eichah, which is prophetic, in
a state of joy! How is this possible? Because the mere fact that, in
the midst of the destruction, Hashem spoke to Yirmiyah was a hopeful
sign, a sign that He had not abandoned His people, that there is a
future to Hashem's relationship with us.
There is also another reason that Hashem wanted Yirmiyah to view
the destruction through the prism of prophecy. The truth is that man
cannot fully grasp the significance of either the Bet Hamikdash or its
destruction. The Bet Hamikdash was the "residence" of the Shechinah,
but just as we cannot fathom the essence of the Shechinah, so we
cannot fully comprehend what it means for the Shechinah to have a
"residence." It follows from this, too, that we cannot grasp the
great loss of the Shechinah's "home" was destroyed. Through prophecy,
however, Yirmiyah could put some of the loss in perspective for us.
We can learn from this, too, adds R' Rotberg, that it takes a
great person to appreciate the depth of the losses that the Jewish
people have suffered. Indeed, the authors of the kinot / lamentations
which we recite were all great scholars and righteous men.
R' Rotberg relates: All of us sigh or groan when we hear of a
person who is ill or who died tragically. However, we do not feel
another's pain the way great people do. The Chazon Ish's sister (R'
Rotberg's aunt) used to beg visitors not to enter the Chazon Ish's
study before he had eaten breakfast, because, as soon a visitor asked
the Chazon Ish to pray for a seriously-ill relative, the Chazon Ish
immediately lost his appetite and became very pained. This is an
emulation of Hashem's own behavior; Chazal say that He appeared to
Moshe from a thorn-bush as if to say, "I am suffering with Bnei
(Tuv Da'at Vol. III, p. 329)
"Alas -- she sits in solitude! The city that is great with
people . . ." (Eichah 1:1)
R' Chaim ben Attar z"l (the Ohr Ha'chaim Ha'kadosh; see facing
page) comments: The prophet points out that even when Yerushalayim was
teeming with people, it was already sitting in solitude. This is
because the Shechinah left the city long before the Temple's and the
city's destruction. It does not concern the prophet whether
Yerushalayim is inhabited so long as the Shechinah is absent.
From the same work:
"She [the nation of Yehuda] dwelt among the nations, but
found no rest." (Eichah 1:3)
Why? R' ben Attar explains: Prior to the exile, the nation of
Yehuda wanted to assimilate among the nations. Measure-for-measure,
it was punished that even when it was exiled among the nations, it
would find no rest.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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