05 August 2022

The Jewish Version of “Our Little Ones”


Moreover your little ones...I will give it to them, and they will possess it!"

(Deuteronomy 1:39)

Av 8, 5782/August 5, 2022

This week we begin the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final of the Five Books of Moses. Known in Hebrew as Devarim, which means words, the entire book of Deuteronomy is a record of the words that Moshe spoke to the children of Israel over the final thirty-seven days of his life, before ascending Mount Nevo, looking into the promised land, and being gathered up unto his people. After leading Israel day in and day out for forty years, through thick and thin, ups and downs, great spiritual heights and catastrophic spiritual depths, through declarations of undying faith and total abandonments of faith, through plenty and through thirst and hunger, and always with the promise and vision of the land awaiting them, what more does Moshe have to say to his flock? Hasn't he, under G-d's watchful eye, already said it all?

Moshe, knowing his time has come, is fearful for his people's future. He is leaving them in the trusted hands of Yehoshua, but nobody knows like Moshe, the weaknesses of his people and the potential pitfalls that await them, not just under Yehoshua's leadership, but far off into the future, even unto our day, today.

The book of Devarim is filled both with words of rebuke, castigating Israel for past errors, and anticipating future lapses, on the one hand, and with breathtaking passages of encouragement and uplift, on the other, confident that Israel can achieve all that G-d has set before her, if only she keeps to the path and maintains her faith.

It is also important to Moshe to settle the record, and to this end he recounts the dreadful incident of the spies, the lowest of all the lows that beset Israel in the wilderness, and the reason why, only now, thirty-nine years later, Israel was preparing to enter the land. "And all of you approached me and said, 'Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come,'" Moshebegins. (Deuteronomy 1:22) Moshe continues to describe in detail the entire unhappy incident, concluding with his understanding that, were it not for the sin of the spies, he too would have entered the land a long time ago. All this is true enough, but why is Moshe castigating the people before him? After all, they are not the ones who committed the crime. They are not the ones who wavered in their faith, creating a spiritual blemish that would continue to plague Israel throughout the millennia. The people standing before Moshe are literally the children of the generation of the spies, of whom he has just now referred, quoting HaShem, "Moreover your little ones, whom you said will be prey, and your children, who on that day did not know good and evil they will go there and I will give it to them, and they will possess it."(ibid 1:39)

The generation of the spies is gone, having all died in the wilderness, just as G-d decreed. They can no longer be addressed. They can no longer be spoken to. So, like it or not, it is their innocent children who must listen to Moshe's words of rebuke. But by addressing Israel, not in past tense, but in present tense, Moshe is speaking not just to the people gathered before him, but to all generations, to all of us today. And yes, we all need to hear these harsh words of rebuke. We all need to be reminded the failings of our ancestors, righteous as they were, so that we do not likewise stumble in our ways, or grow faint in our faith.

Today we are grateful for our immediate ancestors, those who fulfilled prophecy by returning to the land of Israel, settling it, causing it to flourish, and fought war after war in order to achieve our independence in the land G-d has promised us, for the first time in 2,000 years. We are living in an era of unparalleled merit and privilege. And with privilege comes responsibility. The heroic modern day founders of the independent state of Israel, did, however fail, and tragically so, in regard to the Holy Temple.

"But regarding this matter, you do not believe HaShem, your G-d, Who goes before you on the way, to search out a place for you, in which to encamp, in fire at night, to enable you to see on the way you should go, and in a cloud by day." (ibid 1:32-33) In 1967 Israeli paratroopers set foot on the Temple Mount, just as the twelve spies had set foot in the promised land three thousand years before them. And just as the spies turned their backs on the beautiful land they had just entered, the nation of Israel, in 1967, with very few, but notable exceptions, immediately backtracked and turned its back on the Temple Mount and on the Holy Temple meant to be established on that spot. As hard as it is to understand to this day, just what entered into the hearts of the spies that so frightened them and caused them to act so shamefully, it is equally as difficult to comprehend what shadow passed before Israel in 1967, flushed with a miraculous victory over her enemies, which darkened her eyes and hardened her heart.

So we today, just like the children of the spies who stood before Moshe in his final days, must hear his rebuke. We must constantly be reminded of the failings of our forefathers, not in order to cast them aside, G-d forbid, but to learn from their mistakes and to correct them. Refilling the Temple Mount with the hopes and dreams and aspirations of our people, and building a Holy Temple upon this solid foundation of faith and love of HaShem, is our mission today. What our fathers failed to achieve, we must set out to accomplish.

Every word that Moshe utters in the book of Deuteronomy, he is addressing to us today, both the stinging rebuke and also the swirling words of vision and encouragement. If we take Moshe's words to heart, and if we see ourselves as standing before him even today, there is no way we can fail.

This Sunday is the fast of the 9th of Av, the day of the destruction of both the first and second Temples. It is the day that the spies returned to Israel's desert encampment and delivered their evil report. It is the day that, not in spite of, but with full recognition of these past dark moments, the building of the third Holy Temple begins! We can surely do it!

The 9th Of Av - A Time To Build! 2,000 years ago the Holy Temple was destroyed! Physically gone, the Holy Temple has remained forever in the hearts and prayers and aspirations of the children of Israel. The dream to rebuild the Holy Temple has never died. Today prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes, and rebuilding the Holy Temple is within our reach. Even as we mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, Israel today is more determined than ever to rebuild the Holy Temple in our time! The 9th of Av: A time to mourn? A time to build!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shabbat Shalom!
Beautifully and clearly written! May we all have a meaningful but easy fast. (May the next Tisha B'Av surely be a feast day!)
Interesting to note is that the spies were all tzadikim and their motive as Chazal tell us was that they wanted to continue living in the desert so they can constantly learn Torah with no worries of the normal life of working the Land, etc. But, of course, that was a great sin because Hashem gave us this beautiful holy land and it's as if they slapped H' (so to speak) in the face. Their motivations were admirable (to a degree) but definitely wrong. The difference with giving away the keys to our mortal enemies upon our recapturing Our Land after the '67 War, was motivated by the evil deals already struck by the Erev Rav (leadership) and the nations. We came back home, but not to true independence. We will soon be there (independence) because the time for our redemption is very close and the good Jews are ready for the rebuilding of our holy Beit HaMikdash and maybe, as many of our Sages fortell, the rest of the Bayit will come down from Shamayim. May all Yiddishes neshamot merit to welcome Moshiach and begin praying in H's holy House.

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