I don’t usually do Divrei Torah, but Heshy at Frumsatire needed one this week, so I wrote this. And since it’s about Tisha B’Av, I thought I’d put it up here too:
In Parshas Devarim, Moshe retells the story of the travels and tribulations of the Jews in the desert to the Jews before they enter the land. The Haftorah is a scathing rebuke of the hypocrisy of the Jews at the time of the destruction of the Temple by Isaiah. The connection to Tisha B’Av is obvious- that’s why it’s always read this week. But the Haftorah’s main purpose was to evoke the feeling of the Parshah when it wasn’t allowed to be read. So what’s the connection to this week’s Parshah?
I think that we can find it at the end of the Haftorah. After telling the Jews that God is sick of their empty rituals and wants them to act with justice and mercy, the prophet says (translation by Mechon Mamre):
21 How is the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.
22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water.
23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
24 Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries, and avenge Me of Mine enemies;
25 And I will turn My hand upon thee, and purge away thy dross as with lye, and will take away all thine alloy;
26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.
27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.
There is a point to the destruction. And that is because there is a point to Creation. God has a plan- to perfect the Jews, humanity, and the entirety of existence. He tells the Jews what to do:
Verse 16: Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
And he wants them to do it on their own, out of their own reason and desire, to be partners with Him:
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
But ultimately, God knows what’s best and is in control of everything. So if they don’t want to listen, He will force them to:
19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land;
20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken.
Is this unfair? Is God taking away our freedom? No. We are never played like puppets. That would be pointless. The plan is for people to be partners in creation, through our ability to reason, just like Him. But God can make us see another way. He can show us, by “purging away the dross” of pride and hate, that another way of life exists. One of unity and giving. We can see both ways of living, and choose life. Moshe says later on, in Deut. chap. 30, v. 19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.
Why is Moshe telling the Jews entering the Land of Israel all that happened in the desert? Because he wants them to understand the process they went through to get to this point. They went out of the slavery of Egypt through their faith in God, not through their own fighting or intelligence. They lacked that faith at Sinai with the Golden Calf, with the Spies, at Marah, with the Manna, and other places. Finally, they deserved to go in, but Moshe felt that the lesson needed to be hammered in: Don’t fear. Don’t hate. Don’t fight. Just have faith in God.
Because if you don’t, and you start hoarding your wealth and beating up on the poor, God has a very definite way of getting your attention focused back on Him. And He won’t hesitate to use it over and over and over and over.