April 9, 2024
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Parshat Devarim is always read on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av. The appearance of the word Eicha uttered by Moshe Rabbeinu in this parsha is consistent with the gloom of the Nine Days. Another message found within the parsha makes its reading appropriate for the most somber Shabbat of the year. The parsha begins with Moshe addressing the nation just days before his imminent death. We can only imagine the sadness that loomed over the nation at this point. Moshe recalls being approached by the people and asked if they could send spies to the Land of Israel. The purpose of these spies he considered, was so that the nation would be better equipped with a plan to conquer the land. Moshe acknowledged that on this premise he agreed with the plan, but was astonished at the end result. When the nation questioned their ability to successfully conquer the land, Moshe soothed their concerns by assuring them that Hashem would be with them and guarantee their success. Moshe continued to explain that he tried in a number of different ways to solidify the faith of the nation in Hashem and His promise. Nevertheless, Moshe recounts, the people refused to believe, and their lack of faith awoke the anger of Hashem, who promised that no member of that generation would live to enter the Promised Land. At this point in the parsha, Moshe makes an emphatic comment, recalling that Hashem became angry with him because of the people, and promised that he too would never enter the land.

Factually, Moshe’s statement is astonishing. Moshe was explicitly told by Hashem that he and Aharon would not enter the Land of Israel because of the incident at Mei Meriva, where Moshe hit the rock in place of speaking to it. Why would Moshe blame Bnei Yisrael for his mistake, and for Hashem’s subsequent anger as well as the punishment that resulted? Further, why would Moshe mention this in direct connection with the sin of the spies, when the case of Mei Meriva was not connected to the episode of the spies? Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l points out that whenever the Bnei Yisrael complained in the desert they directed their anger toward Moshe, blaming his bringing the nation from Mitzrayim as the source of their struggles. Moshe, however, only acted as an agent of Hashem and followed the direct commands given to him. Rav Schwab explains that the nature of man is that if one hears something for a consistent period of time, after a while, after 40 years, it will have an impact on them. Perhaps Moshe was telling the Jewish people that after all of their complaining and blaming him for so many years, their words impacted him, causing him to act on his own accord at Mei Meriva, rather than listening to the instructions of Hashem. The implication is that Moshe’s error in hitting the rock in place of speaking to the rock, as Hashem had commanded, resulted from his frustration with being blamed for 40 years for his own actions, which he only performed in service of and at the command of the Divine. If Moshe, the greatest prophet to have ever lived, was influenced by 40 years of constant complaints, we, too, may be susceptible to the negative influences that surround us.

A powerful lesson can be derived from this unfortunate circumstance. In some way, when we are exposed to a given environment for a consistent period of time, we are inevitably influenced by it. While this may be true in the positive sense, every society has within it negative forces. Perhaps one of the concepts that we should mourn this Tisha B’Av is the idea that this galut has influenced us in such a powerful way negatively, we may not even fully grasp its impact upon us.

Our souls have been exposed to secular ideals and values for so long that in some ways we may have adopted them, even if at times they may be counter to authentic Torah ideals and values. On this Tisha B’Av, let us pause and reflect on how we have changed, as individuals, as a community and as a people by the challenge and influence of our surrounding society. Let us resolve to identify these areas, and return to our true selves as we ask Hashem to return to Him. May this be the last year that we mourn the churban and may we all merit to celebrate the simcha of Yerushalayim together in the third Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

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