A week goes by and within it an eternity.
This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Eternal Written Torah. This sefer has a nickname, if you will. It is often called the Mishne Torah. As in ‘Round Two.” Because large parts of this sefer contain Moshe Rabeinu recalling the 40 years of his leadership, the travels, travails and adventures of Bnei Yisrael’s journey through the Midbar, the desert. All the other books were directly dictated to Moshe by God with Moshe Rabeinu serving as a “secretary.” In Sefer Devarim, though, G-d heard the deep, profound words that Moshe Rabeinu was imparting and chose from within his words the speeches He would use as part of the Torah. There is obviously great value and a great message in these words, if G-d Himself approved them and chose to pass them on to the generations. These are messages of clarity, vision, erudition and sagacity. An ethical will from our most beloved leader… There were memories and there were tears, he scolded them and praised them, he molded them and embraced them and throughout this Sefer, he imparted his wisdom and his insights. And he said goodbye. It was at this juncture in their lives, where this nation would go on to one destiny and Moshe Rabeinu to a different one, that he gathered them around him and gave of his heart, his mind and his soul. He had given his life for them, they were his students, his followers, he was their teacher, their guide, their mentor, their Rav, their everything. And now they were to go on without him. But first, he had so much to tell them.
This week is also the week on which the national tragedy of Tisha Bav falls. Immediately after Shabat, as it were. There are no coincidences. Every year, Parashat Devarim is read on the Shabat that is called Shabat Chazon, (the Shabat of the vision of Yirmiyahu in which he prophesized the destruction of the Temple). The Shabat preceding Tisha B’av. On Tisha B’Av we read of the prophecy that begins with the eerie, lamentable word EICHA, how. How is it possible that a city of glory has been diminished to ashes? In this week’s parasha, Moshe Rabeinu uses this very same word. Eicha, when recalling his nations beginnings and his initiation into leadership. “How can I possibly lead you”? G-d in His goodness has increased your numbers… how can I bear the burden, and responsibility… Those same eerie words. It is a connection too powerful to ignore. This part of Parashat Devarim and Eicha clearly belong together.
As usual, in our beautiful Torah, words have so much meaning beyond their literal one. The letters of the word Eicha, without their vowels, can also be pronounced Ayeka, where are you? And now things become clearer. What a masterpiece is our Torah. Where are you? asks Hashem. You allowed this glorious era in your history to die, to be lain to waste… It is gone, never to return. The most golden era of our lives, where are you, what have you done… I have a feeling Moshe Rabeinu was asking the same thing but not of others, of himself. Within his nobility and grandeur, his enormous sense of humility shines forth… These are his last days and he is reviewing his life, their life, the 2 are inseparable and he asks himself after all this time, after all he has given, after all he has become, where are you. Who are you, did you become all you can be? Did you give them your all? How can it be that I, so small and insignificant could serve a nation as grand and divine as you?
The thought is so dramatic and so touching. Because the sum total of life’s journeys is not about what you have done, how much you accomplished, how many assets you accumulated, but rather about what you have become. Have you made yourself all you can be? When our soul returns to its Maker, will it be with pride or with shame? Can we embrace the adventures that life sends our way with acceptance and love and forgiveness, do we take the high road or do we allow ourselves to get bogged down with silly, inconsequential things? Do we see the lemons or do we make lemonade. Do we see life’s variations as difficulties, as adversity or as opportunities? And at the end of the road, when we look back on it all, will we have healed the lives we touched or G-d forbid the opposite? Will we have navigated the turbulent waters with calm and faith or with anger and resentment? The choice is ours… Where are you? The Divine voice is calling out for thousands of years…
What will you answer?
Shabbat Shalom and have a meaningful fast, may it be our very last.