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We Didn't Start the Fire… Devarim and Tisha Ba'av 5776

The following story is true, however the names and details have been fictionalized to bring out the story.

The pounding in Shlomo’s head wouldn’t stop, but it was easily drowned out by the pain in his heart. The city lie in flaming ruins, human corpses were lying all around him, rotting in the searing midday sun. He hadn’t eaten anything in four days, yet he knew he must go on. He must continue to fight. The  Babylonians were carousing wildly in the Temple courtyard after having spent weeks fighting their way through the streets of Jerusalem. He couldn’t understand how they would dare to blaspheme G-d that way, especially after they had seen his power firsthand.

They came to attack Jerusalem over three and a half years ago. They brought with them the strongest soldiers, and the best military engineers. They had even brought three hundred donkeys loaded with the strongest axes known to man. These hardened axes could cut through steel easily, yet the first time they struck the gate of Jerusalem, they broke instantly. For over three years they laid siege on the city and finally in desperation they started packing to leave. Suddenly they realized that the walls were actually sinking on their own accord, two and a half handbreadths daily. It was as if G-d was telling them, “Don’t think you can conquer Me, but I will let you in.”

Finally a heavenly voice declared “Now is the time to conquer Jerusalem. The time has come for it to be destroyed. The Temple is to be shattered and the Sanctuary burned.” The Babylonian general had one of the last axes near him, he grabbed it and on the first blow to the city gate, the entire gate crumbled. The attackers spilled into the city and immediately started the wholesale slaughter of its starving inhabitants. The hand to hand combat had been fierce, and Shlomo along with many of his friends had fought valiantly, but they were no match for the better equipped, well trained Babylonian crack troops.

On the seventh of Av, the Babylonian barbarians entered the Temple, and began celebrating in full pagan fashion. Now, two days later, Shlomo from his hiding place could see them preparing a big fire to burn the building down. Shlomo paused for an introspective moment.

How did he end up here? He was a pirchei kehuna, a young apprentice Kohen, from a small village in the Galilee, who had been training to serve in the temple as his family had done faithfully for centuries. How did this spear end up in his hands, when he should have been handling peace offerings on the Altar? How was there human blood all over his kesoness tunic, the linen vestments of a priest, whose whole job was to bring unity and G-dliness ot the world? Should he attempt a kamikaze attack against the Babylonian captain standing a few feet from his hiding place drunkenly drinking wine out of a golden temple vessel? Should he just try to escape the city, and join the exiles being slave-driven to a foreign country?

Suddenly, Shlomo felt a tapping at his shoulder and upon turning, looked with surprise at Yitzchak, the mentor of the apprentice priests crouching next to him. “Shlomo,” he whispered, “come with me, we have an important mission to fulfill?” He quickly followed Yitzchak to a staircase leading to the roof of the Temple. Upon reaching the top, he was surprised to see many of his fellow apprentices huddled around a box. Against the cackling sound of the fires beginning to lick the temple walls, Yitzchak addressed his disciples for the last time. He spoke softly with great love and sadness in his eyes, and soon there was not a dry eye in the group.

Finally, he reached into the ornate box, and produced a ring of keys they all recognized as the ones to the gates of the Temple. With his students huddled around him he looked to heaven and spoke in a clear and pained voice. “Lord of the Universe, we no longer have the merit to be trustees of Your Temple. Take the Temple keys!” Without another word he threw the keys heavenward. The form of a hand came down from heaven, caught the keys, and disappeared. With “Shema Yisrael” on their lips, the courageous apprentices succumbed to the raging fire.

This Sunday is Tisha B’av, the Jewish Day of Mourning, when we mourn the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, along with a host of tragedies that befell the Jewish people in the last three millennia. How do we deal with the incredible weight of such a day? Is it not simply too much to bear, is it not paralyzing? What can we possibly feel or do to make the day meaningful, to make it constructive?

When the commandment to build a Sanctuary for G-d was first issued, G-d told us, “Build for me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell inside of them” (Exodus 25:8). The Sages point out that it did not say “so that I may dwell in it” rather it said “so that I may dwell in them.” This teaches us that each one of us has the ability to build a sanctuary inside of us, a place within us that G-d can call home.

We can’t rebuild the temple yet. We can’t construct that magnificent edifice of G-dliness on earth yet. But what we can do is build it inside of us. We can make our lives more spiritually enriched to the point that we are someone G-d wants to reside in. If enough of us build these internal spaces, surely G-d will rebuild His external space, the third and final Beit Hamikdash! L’shana Ha’baa Biyerushalayim Hab’nuya! May Next Year Find Us in the rebuilt Jerusalem!

 

Parsha Dvar torah

In this week’s portion, Devarim, we read about the final discourse that Moshe gave the Jewish people before he passed away. It was quite a long lecture, as it took a bit more than a month. However, it was a time that Moshe used to review with the Jews, not only the laws he taught them but also the lessons they needed to take from their experiences in the desert. Part of this entailed reminding them of certain mistakes they made, which Moshe did sensitively by hinting to the experiences instead of directly confronting the people with them.

One of the events Moshe reminded the people of was the sending of spies to the “check out” the land that G-d had already promised to be good. The spies came back and gave a degrading report of the Land of Israel, the people believed them, and wept all night (the first Tisha B’av ever). After this G-d decreed that the Jewish people would wander in the desert for 40 years, and none of the people of that generation who slandered Israel would live to see the land.

When Moshe reminds the people of that event, and describes the people coming to him to request spies, he says the following, “You approached me, all of you, and said, ‘let us send men ahead of us to spy out the land for us” (Deut. 1:22). Rashi comments on the apparently extraneous “all of you” that Moshe was hinting to a mistake they made. “Here, you approached me, all of you in hodgepodge- the young pushing aside the elders, and the elders pushing aside the leaders” (Rashi on loc.) Rav Chaim Volozhin (1749-1821, Poland/Russia, said to be the father of the yeshiva movement), asks why Moshe went out of his way to point out a seemingly small misdeed, especially when the real topic, the sending of the spies was such a severe one?

Rav Chaim answers that Moshe wanted to preclude any possible excuse the Jews could have given for the event of the spies. The Jewish people might say, that they only sent out the spies with the best of intentions, and it was not their fault that the spies came back and persuaded them to believe the slander against the land of Israel! To counter this Moshe showed the people that from the get go, they had the wrong intentions in mind. If they were truly noble in purpose when they sent the spies out, there would be no way that they could advance the request in a way that would be disrespectful to others. By pointing out that they came as an impolite, irreverent, insolent, impudent, and ill mannered group, Moshe was proving to the people that the problem was rooted in something deeper than the persuasion of the spies, rather in the people who sent them.

We all get into arguments with others, whether at work, in the home, or at the synagogue. Often we feel that we are in the argument only to champion the truth, and there is nothing personal about it. Even if things get a bit tense in the argument, that’s OK, because we are out there defending what is just and right. Moshe, in this week’s parsha is giving us a litmus test, to determine if that is true. If no one’s feelings get hurt through our argument, then it is an argument of principles, with each person solely trying to find what is right. But the minute any person feels stilted, we know that we have crossed the divide and taken it into the personal attack arena. Hurt feelings, disrespect, or insensitivity are the smoking guns pointing to something less than noble. Let us use Moshe’s tool to help us argue more effectively, which lead us to live in harmony, and in that merit we will see the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed as a result of discord.

 

Parsha Summary

The Book of Devarim is a record of what Moshe told the Jewish people in the last few weeks before he died. In the later Pashiot, 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 40 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: The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Random Fact of the Week: There are more telephones than people in Washington D.C.

Funny Line of the Week: I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

 

Have a Majestic Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

 

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