As we have noted many times in the past, Sefer Divarim (Deuteronomy) has a specific focus that distinguishes it from the other four Seforim. Rav Hirsch explained that Divarim was intended to prepare the Bnai Yisroel for their transition from the miraculous 40-year experience in the desert into the natural normalcy of Israel. The transition would decentralize the nation; distance most of them from the proximity of the Temple service and the Sanhedrin; and bring them in contact with the non-Jewish world. Therefore, the new laws and the reviewed laws recorded in Sefer Divarim address themselves to these issues.
Moshe had four basic concerns.
Concern #1: Distance from G-d and the Mishkan. For forty years the nation had lived “beneath the sheltering cover of G-d’s wings.” They had been surrounded by clouds, protected from the elements, isolated from every other nation, given water from rocks, food from heaven, and were within sight of the Mishkan and all her attendants: Kohanim, Laviyim, and the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court). Upon crossing the Yarden (Jordan), the nation would have to wage years of war, institute a government, divide the land, cultivate the land, and raise the next generation of Jews.
While in the desert, G-d’s presence was clearly evident. Once they crossed over the Yarden, His presence would be less overt. While in the desert, the Jews were cared for “as you have seen, your G-d, bore you as a man carries his son.” (1:31) G-d did not expect th Bnai Yisroel to “care for ourselves.” He took care of making the money, buying all the necessities, preparing all the meals, and keeping them safe and secure. Their job was to study His Torah and develop their faith and devotion. However, once they crossed over the Yarden, their level of participation and effort in G-d’s largess – would be much greater. They would not be as free to focus their energies on study and devotion.
Moshe was concerned for the transition because greater effort in the secular and mundane and less time for the study of Torah can make man believe more in himself and his own efforts than in G-d’s absolute and total generosity.
Furthermore, there would no longer be a constancy of the Mishkan’s presence in the lives of the Jews. While in the desert the daily workings of the Mishkan were in “their faces.” Whether through actual attendance at the Mishkan or by seeing the rising smoke of the daily offerings, every Jew was aware of “G-d’s Place.”
How would the nation retain their awareness of G-d’s presence in their lives and the lives of the nation once they transitioned from the desert into the Land?
Concern #2: Distance from the nation. As we detailed in Sefer Bamidbar, the organization and placement of the Tribes while in the desert was intentional. It accomplished three obvious things. A) For all practical intents and concerns the nation was organized. B) Each Tribe was made aware of its unique place within the nation and G-d’s expectation for its exclusive contribution to the nation. C) Each person realized that they belonged to a much greater whole. They did not work only for themselves. They also worked for the nation. They were part of a national reality and a national mission.
On the one hand, each of them would have to do their personal best in shouldering their part of the national job. On the other hand, they knew that they could not do it alone and that they needed each other to accomplish the goal of their personal best. (Avos 2:17)
Upon crossing the Yarden the Tribes would be dispersed throughout the land. Contact between the Tribes would be limited by time and geography. Tribes would inevitably become more tribal and territorial. This is not to suggest that while in the desert rivalry between the tribes didn’t exist. Of course it did! However, at least the tribes could physically see each other. They knew that they were but one tribe among twelve. In Eretz Yisroel the tribes would be focused on settling their assigned portions and would have little time to engage each other in much more than the job of survival.
This explains Moshe’s concerns in last week’s Parsha for the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Not only would they be decentralized by the transition into the Land, they were requesting to be further distanced from the nation by settling east of the Yarden! Therefore, Moshe demanded that they assume an even greater role as the point-guard in the “national effort” of settling Eretz Yisroel. Their commitment to the nation during the years of conquest would offset their increased distance from them.
Concern #3: Distance from Torah leadership – the Sanhedrin. While in the desert, the Jews were in constant touch with the hierarchy of the nation. The focus of the 40 years was to learn G-d’s Torah and develop their faith and devotion. In order to do so the word of G-d was given to Moshe who transmitted it to the rest of the nation.
The manner of G-d’s transmitting and Moshe’s receiving was evident to everyone. The cloud would descend over “the Meeting Tent”. Everyone would see the cloud and know that Moshe had been summoned. Moshe would make his way through the camp as everyone stood outside their tents and watched. Moshe would enter the Meeting Tent and receive G-d’s prophecy. Moshe would emerge from the Meeting Tent and relay G-d’s word to the people. Every stage of the transmission process reemphasized the direct line of transmission and reception – from G-d to Moshe to the people.
There were many benefits as a result. A) Every individual felt personally connected to Moshe and to G-d. B) Every individual felt personally obligated to study, understand, and adhere to the word of G-d – as taught by Moshe. C) Every individual realized that they were responsible for continuing the process of receiving and transmitting G-d’s Torah as taught to them by Moshe to their children and all future generations.
Once they crossed the Yarden the direct connection to G-d and Moshe’s successors would not be as clear. No longer would the Torah be a “first edition” in its first publication. No longer would they witness first hand the “giving of the Torah.” No longer would there be constant and direct contact with the top hierarchy of the nation. While in the desert, every one experienced seeing Moshe, Aharon, Yehoshua, Pinchus, and the other great personalities of that generation. It took a minimal degree of effort for the smallest child to witness or experience true greatness. Once they entered the land it would take time, travel, and much more effort for the majority of the nation to encounter the heroes of the generation.
The severing of constant contact between the nation and the Torah leadership was a major concern. Access to leadership provides constant contact, answers, and direction. (See Shemos 18:13) Denied access due to constraints of time and distance leaves a void in the transmission of answers that is often filled by subjective ignorance and limited scholarship. Unfortunately, this sets the stage for the transmission of half-truths and full-falsehoods rather than the transmission of truth and justice.
Concern #4: Contact with the other nations. While in the desert, the Bnai Yisroel were in virtual isolation. Except for a few instances, primarily at the end of the 40 years, the Bnai Yisroel were truly a “nation that dwells alone.” This allowed for the Jews to become comfortable with their divinely ordained differences. This allowed for G-d’s laws to become traditions and for traditions to generate pride in their distinction and uniqueness. However, once they crossed the Yarden their contact with the inhabitants of Canaan as well as their contact with the surrounding nations through trade and commerce would put tradition and pride to the test. Would the Bnai Yisroel withstand the lure of assimilation? Would the seeming new and untried attract the adventurous and the discontent? Moshe was concerned. Moshe needed to assure a successful transition.
Next week we will begin to explore various examples from Sefer Divarim that illustrate the four concerns and the methods Hashem instituted to assure a successful transition from the desert into the Promised Land.
15TH OF AV
THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE YEAR
The last Mishnah in Taanis states that the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur are equally joyous occasions. The forgiveness received on Yom Kippur and the annually renewed closeness with G-d are cause for great celebration. The 15th of Av is equally a time of historic atonement, intimacy, and celebration. The Talmud explains the six events that give this day its unique character.
1. As explained in previous editions, the above 20, male, generation of the Exodus died out in the desert during the 40 years of wandering. Every Tisha B’Av, 15,000 men, (of the total 600,000) would die. On the last Tisha B’av in the year 2488, the remaining 15,000 dug their graves; however in the morning none had died! Figuring that they must have made a mistake in the calendar, they continued to dig their graves every night until the 15th. Upon seeing the full moon they realized that G-d had rescinded the decree for the remaining 15,000! A day of forgiveness and celebration was proclaimed. (37 x 15,000 = 555,000 + 14,700 + 250 by Korach + 15,000 Deut.1:44 = 599,000)
2 & 3. In the times of the Shoftim – Judges, under the rule of Othniel, a terrible civil war broke out between the tribe of Binyamin and the rest of the nation. (approx. 2573-1188 b.c.e.) The tribe of Binyamin was decimated and a decree was issued forbidding any further marriage with the men of Binyamin. This would have resulted in the eventual destruction of the entire tribe. Additionally, women who inherited their father’s ancestral properties were forbidden to marry outside of their tribes. Some time later, on the 15th of Av, both decrees were lifted, allowing for all marriages between the tribes, and guaranteeing the survival of the tribe of Binyamin. The Mishna teaches that the 15th of Av was devoted to shidduchim, marriages, and the rebuilding of relationships.
4. Following the death of King Solomon, the nation was divided. The evil Yeravam ben Nevat led Israel. Three years after taking the throne, he erected two golden calves in the North and South of Israel, and prohibited his people from visiting the Bais Hamikdash. Checkpoints and other forms of restraint were instituted to discourage going to the Temple and to encourage serving the “golden calves”. On the 15th of Av, around 3187-574 b.c.e., under the King Hoshea b. Elah, the decree was lifted and all of Israel was again able to go to the Bais Hamikdash.
5. “Yom Tabar Maagal – The Day of the breaking of the Axes.” In the 2nd Temple, wood was scarce after the land had been unattended during the 70-year Babylonian exile. Therefore, wood was very precious and expensive. To guarantee that the Mizbeach (altar) would always have sufficient wood, donations were given by the wealthiest families, exclusively for the Altar. The wood had to be completely dry to guarantee that there wouldn’t be any worms. The cut off date to bring the wood into the Temple for the coming year was the 15th of Av. That was the day when the “axes could be broken” and it was a day of enormous joy and rejoicing knowing that the sacrifices could be brought for the coming year.
6. 52-years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, Bar Kochva lead an uprising against the Romans. He was so successful that some considered him to be the Mashiach. His rebellion ended on Tisha B’Av after a 3-year siege against Betar, and he died along with 580,000 others. To disgrace and demoralize the people, the “fallen of Betar” were not permitted by the Roman authorities to be buried. Instead, they were stacked as a human fence around the vineyards of the governor, Adrianus. (approx. 12 mile perimeter) For almost 11 years, until Emperor Hadrian’s death, the bodies miraculously remained intact without decomposing. On the 15th of Av, permission was granted to bury the martyred of Betar. This miracle was cause for celebration. In fact, the fourth blessing of the Birkas Hamazon (Grace After Meals) Hatov V’Hamaytiv – G-d Who Is Good And Who Does Good – was authored by the rabbis of that generation to commemorate this great miracle. This was ordained to remember the special love that G-d displayed in not allowing the martyrs of Betar to decompose before burial.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.