Parshat Devarim
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Parshat Devarim

A Strange Nation

Chabad of North West Bergen County, Franklin Lakes, Orthodox

This Shabbat, we begin reading the final book of the Torah, the book (and portion) of Devarim, in which Moses recounts the triumphs and trials of his leadership. He implores the Jewish people to follow faithfully in the ways of God in an extensive oratory, which will prove to be his final words to the Jewish people.

This Shabbat also has the distinction of being called Shabbat Chazon – The Shabbat of Vision – in tribute to this week’s haftarah, which relates the prophetic vision of Yeshayahu in which the Jewish people are chastised for deviating from the Torah and the just ways of God. The haftarah concludes with God’s assurance of forgiveness and the eventual redemption of Zion and its restoration to greatness with the building of the third Temple.

The chasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev says that on the “Shabbat of Vision” each and every one of us is granted a vision of the third and final holy Temple – a vision that, to paraphrase the Talmud, “though we may not see, our souls see.”

In an interesting twist, we actually “celebrate” this vision during the three-week period when we lament the destruction of the Holy Temple and the subsequent exile. And it’s not just any time during the “Three Weeks” but the “Nine Days” – the most intense period of mourning before Tisha B’Av (a 25-hour fast that begins Wednesday evening), the day on which the Temple was destroyed

Only Jews, while in the midst of mourning such profound loss, can suddenly turn to celebration. Indeed, it is this strange combination of melancholy and joy, mourning and hope, despair and faith, which defines the Jewish experience.

Our tradition provides us with a year-round framework through which we experience these conflicting emotions at once.

On the one hand, there are numerous daily observances to recall the Temple’s destruction, the pain of our 2,000-plus years of exile and the concealment of God’s countenance when we are like “children exiled from their father’s table.” On the other hand, the belief in moshiach and the anticipation of his arrival every day is a fundamental principle of our faith.

In other words, God wants us to be fully cognizant of our past blunders and the tragic dispersion it brought in its wake. But God forbid that we should despair, surrender, or even make peace with our present condition. We need to utilize the pain of past failures to propel us forward toward a greater appreciation of the goodness awaiting us with moshiach’s arrival – a time when there will be justice and peace, health and happiness, and the knowledge of God will blanket the world. In fact, our sages tell us that moshiach will be born on Tisha B’Av, an allusion to the principle that redemption springs precisely from the seeds of destruction.

Austrian journalist Nathan Birnbaum (who is credited with coining the term Zionism and was the founder of the Jewish nationalist organization Kadimah 10 years before Theodor Herzl became the leading spokesman of the Zionist movement) had dabbled in numerous religious doctrines before becoming observant in his early 30s.

He writes that having deprived his soul of its natural spiritual climate of Judaism, he had wasted valuable years searching for life’s answers in the world’s numerous social orders and “isms.” His education – both Jewish and secular – had eminently failed to provide a vision of hope for the future.

He finally discovered the elusive answer in his own tradition: the age-old idealistic Jewish notion of moshiach and the state of perfection that era will usher in.

Shabbat Shalom, and may this year’s Tisha B’Av become a time of celebration with the coming of moshiach now.

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