The Palace That Lies Empty…
Parshat Devarim/Tisha B’Av 5778
But then, unexpectedly, the queen became pregnant. After a drawn out and difficult birth, she bore the king the son he always dreamed of. The joy of the king reverberated throughout the kingdom, and everyone joined in the festivities. As the prince grew up, no expense was spared getting him the best teachers, mentors and instructors. None of them found their job too easy, as the prince was a rambunctious little one, prone to misbehaving, stubbornness, and incessant complaining. By the time the prince reached his teens, he was a full-fledged terror, using his position and power to manipulate everyone around him into fulfilling his selfish whims.
The king watched his dreams melt away. Everything he had provided for his son was being used to transform him into a monster. The majestic palace he built soon after his son’s birth as a place where he could live happily ever after had turned into a harem of promiscuous immorality and corruption. In that very palace the prince would torture and murder his political opponents, slowly amassing support from the nobles of the land. The final straw came when the crown prince started usurping his father’s power, denying the validity of his reign, and using the palace as a base for the subversive actions of his dissident cohorts.
In spite of the counsel of his advisors, the king decided to spare the prince. Instead, he sent his troops to burn down the palace. His hope was that the prince, forced to live amongst the peasants and the lowly, would see what his debauchery and rebellion had brought about. He would then call out to his father, beg him for forgiveness, and recognize his sovereignty. The king could then bring his son back home and see his dreams finally materialize.
Everything went according to plan, the prince after losing the comforts of the palace, began to recognize his mistakes, and begged forgiveness from his father. The king accepted his sincere change of heart, and built yet another palace for his returning son. The family was reunited, the king could envision a legacy he would be proud of, and his son thrived. But soon a new wind blew through the kingdom, carrying with it enmities, hostility, bickering, and slander. The palace was reduced to a haven of hatred, a repository of rancor. Once again the king had to destroy the palace, to drive his son out of his ruinous luxury and into a deplorable situation from where he would surely come rushing back, this time changed forever.
But to the king’s consternation, the prince settled quite happily into life amongst the commoners. He forgot about his father, his role in the country, and his mission in life. He found a good job as a baker, then did deliveries for a while. He even worked a night job as a bartender in the seedy part of town. The king constantly sent spies to find out how his son was doing, and to see if there was a possibility that he would change his ways and come back.
The reports he received were not pretty. His son, built not for the mean streets but for refined palaces, was being beaten up and kicked around. People took advantage of him, using him when they needed him and then throwing him away. But even with all these difficulties, the prince was blind to what was truly his, if only he would come back and ask for it. And still today, the king waits.
This Sunday is Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. It is the day on which both of the temples were burned, and a host of other calamities were visited upon the Jewish people. On that day we mourn the aggregate pain of thousands of years of exile amongst the nations. We mourn a people so royal, yet so oppressed. It is a day of fasting and reflection.
We mourn a people that was once so regal yet sits now as the scapegoat of the world, enduring horrific loss and torture occasionally, but verbal abuse and allegation slinging daily. Our Sages tell us that the reason we were exiled from the first temple was because of our indulgence in the three cardinal sins of murder, promiscuity, and idol worship. Our second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, the constant petty bickering, fighting, and character assassination that still today plagues our people. When we are ready to become a united family once again, lavishing baseless love on one another instead of baseless hatred, G-d will lovingly bring us back to the palace, under His protection.
But instead of working to get back to the palace, we seem to have accepted our place among the nations, we take the abuse with a sigh and move on. Like anyone with a minimum wage job, we don’t want to be in this state, but we are also not doing enough to get us out of it. It’s painful for us, and even more painful for our Father in Heaven, who is with us in this exile, as the Sages say “Shechinta Bigalusa,” G-d is with us in this exile, ever hoping for the day that He can bring His children home, but alarmed by our seeming acceptance of our lot as a scapegoat.
This Tisha B’Av, we mourn our nation’s pain, we contemplate what we can do to create more baseless love and unity in our community. But let’s also stop for a moment and mourn not for our loss, but for the pain and loss of the King.
“Those who mourn over Jerusalem will merit to see it’s rebuilding.”
Parsha Dvar torah
This week’s dvar torah is from the beautiful writings of Elchonon Jacobovitz
And God spoke to me [Moshe] saying: Enough of your circling around this mountain [Mt. Sa’ir], turn yourselves northward.
Nearing his final days among the living, Moshe delivers a marathon pep talk to the Jewish nation, better known to us as the book of Devarim, or Deuteronomy. In pointing out the fledgling nation’s strong and weak points, he spends much time reviewing the forty years spent together in the desert, reflecting upon the trials and triumphs of that tumultuous period. Nearing the end of this short chronicle, Moshe recounts how, after having spent some time circling Mt. Sa’ir, ancestral homeland of Israel’s arch-nemesis Esau, God told him, “Enough of your circling around this mountain [Mt. Sa’ir], turn yourselves northward”.
While Moshe’s account is perfectly accurate, there is something odd about how he tells of God’s instructing him to move on. By saying “Enough of your circling around this mountain”, God seems to be almost annoyed at the Israelites for sticking around Mt. Sa’ir for too long. Yet in truth, it was God who had instructed them to remain there in the first place, for as we know, it was He who dictated the Israelites’ every move throughout the forty years. What, then, could God possibly mean?
Perhaps understanding the terms “Mt. Sa’ir” and “northward” metaphorically, will shed new light on God’s intent. As the ancestral territory of our nemesis Esau, “Mt. Sa’ir” can be understood as the seemingly impenetrable fortress of the forces which stand in the way of our spiritual success. Similarly, our Sages teach that the word Tzafon, or “northward”, can also be read as Tzafun, which means “hidden”. With this in mind, an entirely new message emerges, encrypted in a seemingly innocent account of the Israelites’ travels.
“Enough of your circling around this mountain”, says God. You have wasted enough time circling your challenges, trying to dream up of ways how “little you” can somehow overpower “big them” in one fell swoop, David-and-Goliath style. Don’t focus on being the glorious knight in shining armor scoring a knockout blow against Evil. Instead, turn your attention to scoring small, hidden triumphs; little, secret victories that may not get you into the newspaper. “Turn yourself to something hidden”. It is only through those small victories that your challenges will eventually fade away entirely. Trying to take them down with one knockout punch is simply effort wasted chasing the impossible.
Overcoming the forces that keep us away from God is not meant to be an all or nothing proposition. God does not want us to spend five minutes in the ring with adversity, with thousand of spectators cheering, and take him down with superhuman strength. Our struggle is meant to be a lifelong one, and we are only expected to be human. What God does want us to do is put up a sustained fight made up of small, entirely winnable battles, in the most hidden of forums and most unspectacular of ways.
Are we to suddenly begin praying Shacharis for two hours? No. But how about truly reflecting on how much we owe God for two seconds; two seconds so short that nobody even notices.
Should we suddenly throw everything for which we lust, out of our lives? No. But maybe we should hold ourselves back once or twice, and revel in the knowledge that only God and ourselves share the little secret of the victory we just achieved.
God does not expect, nor want us, to face down the mountains which stand in our way, and tear them down with our bare hands. All He asks is that we silently chip away tiny slivers off those mountains, slivers so small that only He and us even notice. And yes, with time, those mountains will crumble, so long as we keep on fighting the good and small fight, instead of dreaming about their dramatic downfall while doing nothing practical to accomplish that goal.
Don’t break mountains; break molehills, and the mountains will come crashing down.
The Parsha of Devarim is a record of what Moshe told the people before he died. In the later Parshiot, Moshe reviews some of the key laws (mostly those that will empower the people to set up a stable, functioning society in Israel), but in this Parsha, he reviews the salient events that occurred in their forty year journey. The goal was to ensure that those entering the land wouldn’t rest on their laurels and assume that if they were great enough to inherit the land, then obviously, they wouldn’t fall to sin. To negate this idea, Moshe recounts how the generation that witnessed the greatest miracles of all time (the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Reed Sea), and saw G-d at Sinai in the clearest revelation mankind ever experienced, still fell in the trap of sin.
The basis for this phenomenon is the principle that, “Whoever is greater than his friend, his Evil Inclination is greater.” (Talmud Succah 52a) The higher one’s ability to soar, the lower they are able to fall. (This applies for geographic locations as well. Yerushalayim comes from the merging of Yeru Shalom which means “will see peace,” because it has the ability to bring the entire world peace. This could be accomplished by being the focal point of our prayers, and the city in which the whole world would come together to serve G-d in His temple. In that same way, it also has the ability to see the greatest negation of peace, as it has. I believe, and please email me if I am wrong, that Jerusalem has been the city that has seen the most violence in the world over the course of its 3,000+ years of history.) The generation of the desert had so much pushing them towards good but, to balance that, they also had so much pushing them toward evil. Therefore, Moshe felt it imperative to warn those going into Israel that, although they may be on a lofty spiritual plane, the danger of sin abounds.
Moshe first hints to the Jews’ major sins, including the Golden Calf, their complaining that G-d took them into the desert to kill them, the sending of the spies, their sins with the Midianite women, Korach’s rebellion, and their loss of faith in him at the sea before and after it split. After hinting to these sins, Moshe begins to detail certain events such as the appointment of judges and the failed mission of the spies. He also reminds them of how they had to circle around Israel and not enter from the south due to the Edomites and Moabites not allowing them through their lands, and G-d telling them not to fight with them.
Moshe then reminds the Jews of how, with the help of G-d, they were able to defeat giants like Og, and mighty kingdoms like Sichon, thus telling the Jews that if they put their faith in G-d, they need not fear the imminent conquest of Israel. Finally, the Parsha closes with Moshe describing the agreement he had made with the tribes of Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe regarding their settling land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: When you talk, you repeat that which you already know. When you listen, you often learn something new!- Jaren Sparks
Random Fact of the Week: In 1924 a new Ford cost $265.
Funny Line of the Week: I don’t like it when people talk while I’m interrupting.
Have a Introspective Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham