This week, we will begin Sefer Devaim, the last of the five chumashim of Torah. Most of this sefer is a monologue, Moshe’s final messages to the Jewish People. Moshe starts out our sedra, Parshat Devarim, with an extensive amount of mussar, reviewing all of our ancestors’ mistakes in the desert. Even before this, the Torah offers an introduction to the book which the sages appropriately name Mishne Torah:
אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן… אַחַד עָשָׂר יוֹם מֵחֹרֵב, דֶּרֶךְ הַר-שֵׂעִיר, עַד, קָדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ. וַיְהִי בְּאַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה… דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֹתוֹ, אֲלֵהֶם.
These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, beyond the Jordan… eleven days from Horeb (via Mt. Seir until Kadesh Barnea). And it was in the fortieth year…Moshe spoke to all of the children of Israel all that G-d had commanded him to tell them. (דברים א:א-ג)
So, we see that the pesukim provide the setting of Moshe’s following monologue. However, to those few people who were paying attention last week, we’ve already been more than brought up to date on the travels of the Jewish People- why do we need to be reminded here that ערבות מואב is a ten day journey from חורב?
Rashi answers that even though Moshe’s own words of mussar do not begin until the sixth verse of this perek, this does not exclude us from being reminded of our sins sooner. The first message of Sefer Devarim is a reminder that it should have taken the Jewish People only eleven days to journey from Mt. Sinai to the Plains of Moab. But, it ended up taking forty years to get there. Why? Moshe explains in his first speech, through extensive telling of our misdoings. In short, even when the punishments for our sins in the desert fade, we will always remember thesepesukim, and recall that our entry into Israel was delayed because of our sins. Hopefully, this would aid the Jews entering the land in avoiding the temptation to sin once they settle.
For the Jewish People of more modern times, these pesukim are more of a source of embarrassment. With the advent of commercial boat travel, the furthest Jew in the world could reach the Holy Land in a matter of weeks. For them, the annual reading of Parshat Devarim could’ve been a reminder of how easy moving to the Holy Land would be, and how embarrassing it is that they haven’t: “Five weeks from New York, via the Atlantic Ocean,” they think, “But I still haven’t made the move or even visited yet.” In our times, with jumbo jets and cheap airfare deals, the message is compounded. Moving to the Holy Land, fulfilling the dreams of thousands of generations of Jews, has never been easier. The trip is only a matter of hours, and with Nefesh B’Nefesh’s help, financial aid and employment assistance is readily available.
As believing Jews, we know that the Mashiach will come soon, and just as the Jews of desert eventually entered Eretz Yisrael, despite their sins and their lack of conscious effort, our people will too. But, what will happen when this happy day comes? Do we want to be telling ourselves: “It is a 10.5 hour journey from New York to Israel, and I only moved at the age of fifty?!” Or would we rather be among those who make the move home, removing ourselves of regrets, and be one of the great ones who bring the geulah?
This week, in commemoration of the Shabbat immediately preceding the saddest day of the year (Tisha B’Av), we will read the first, terrifying prophecy of Yishayahu the prophet. Yishayahu paints a dark picture of the price of sinning and rebelling against Hashem, telling of how Eretz Yisrael will become desolate once we are kicked out for our sins. But, at the end, the prophet briefly speaks about the happier days once the Jews return. He concludes:
צִיּוֹן, בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה; וְשָׁבֶיהָ, בִּצְדָקָה
Zion will be redeemed with justice, and they that return to her, with righteousness. (ישיעה א:כז)
We can understand what the justified redemption of Zion will mean- most in the Religious Zionist world believe that we are seeing this now. But, what does “ושביה בצדקה” mean?
I believe that in light of Rashi’s teaching above, the end of “חזון ישיעהו” is telling us that the best righteousness we can do for ourselves is to return. This is not only for the sake of our nation, but also personally. In life, the worst crime that a person can commit to themselves is to miss out on an opportunity, for they will always regret not taking the road less taken- in order to return to Zion in righteousness, we must all take advantage of the unique chance we’ve all been given to return home, be amongst the redeemers of Zion, and strengthen our homeland in her time of need.
With Hashem’s help, Monday night will become the first happy Tisha B’av, with the coming of the geulah and permanent peace. Shabbat Shalom.