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Parashat D’varim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22)

“The Lord your God has multiplied you until you are today

as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (Deuteronomy 1:11)

Parashat D’varim opens the fifth and final book of the Torah (also called D’varim and known in English as Deuteronomy).  It comprises Moses’ five last speeches to the Israelites during the last five weeks of his life.  The central theme of the book is the brit, or covenant, between God and Israel.

Parashat D’varim is always read on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both First and Second Temples and the exile of the Jewish people.  It is known as Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat of vision, because the prophetic reading from Isaiah opens with the word chazon.  There is another word, though, that connects D’varim to Tisha b’Av.

In D’varim, Moses cites the Israelites’ failures in the desert by stating, “Eicha (how) can I bear unaided the trouble of you… (Deut. 1:12).  Yishayahu Leibowitz, (1903–94; an Israeli intellectual known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics) notes that eicha appears again in the book of Isaiah, 800 years later, this time describing the people’s failures inside the land of Canaan:  “Eicha (how) the city has become a harlot…” (Isa. 1:21)  Finally, 150 years after that, this same word, eicha, describes the destruction of the Temple and opens the scroll of Lamentations, which is read on Tisha b’Av:  “Eicha, (how) does the city sit solitary… (Lam. 1:1)

The repetition of eicha is not accidental.  It establishes a causal link between our behavior and God’s role in history.  It connects our decisions in D’varim with the destruction in Lamentations.  Eicha reminds us that our choice of behaviors brings with them consequences, both individually and collectively.  This message is as significant today as in the Bible.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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