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

“Get, from each of your tribes, wise men, understanding, and known
among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.” (Deuteronomy 1:13)

Parashat D’varim reunites the Jewish people. Not the Israelites in the desert; they’ve been together since leaving Egypt. Rather, today’s Jewish people.

Two different calendars for reading the weekly parasha, or portion, have been in use since the end of Pesach, or Passover. This is due to different customs in observance of the second day of chag, or holiday. The Jewish community in Israel observes only one day of chag, as do Reform and Reconstructionist communities around the world. Conservative and Orthodox Jewish communities outside of Israel observe two days. Because the last day of Pesach fell on Shabbat this year, communities observing one day of chag have been “reading ahead” in the Torah by one week. By reading a double parasha last week, communities observing two days of chag are now caught up.

D’varim is always read the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both First and Second Temples and the dispersion of the Jewish people. The destruction of the Temple displaces the priest as the central authority in Jewish life and the local rabbi becomes the ritual decision maker. Over time, local cultures around the world influence Jewish practices, yielding the rich diversity of Jewish custom. Sadly, the destruction in modern times of so many centers of Jewish life in both Europe and Arab lands, along with the centralization of Jewish life in North America and Israel, threatens that diversity.

Parashat D’varim begins with Moses reminding the Israelites what happened to them in the desert and why. Tisha b’Av reminds us of what happened to the Temples in Jerusalem. Remembering is the essence of Jewish life.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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