Monumental Movement

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In Parshat Devarim of the Torah, Moshe begins his final speech to Bnei Yisroel before his death and before Bnei Yisroel will reach the final goal of the exodus, entering Eretz Yisroel, the land Hashem had promised to our forefathers, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. By acknowledging the roots of our peoplehood at the time of its actualization, the Torah is coming full circle, and the rest of Jewish history will in some way be encompassed in all that is recorded in these chapters.

This leads to an interesting debate between R' Yochanah and R' Elazar. Focusing on the phrase in verse Shmuel II, 1:18, the two disagree on what is referred to as Sefer Hayashar/The Book of the Upright. While R' Yochanan believes this refers to Sefer Bereishis that chronicles the lives of our upright forefathers, R' Elazar claims it refers to our current study, the Book of Devarim which command us to "Do what is good and upright in the eyes of Hashem." Rabbi Asher Weiss reconciles these two views by suggesting that Sefer Bereishit supplies the emotional heart and character of the upright while Sefer Devarim instructs us how to actualize righteousness into action.  

Moshe begins his discourse with the beginning of the journey from Sinai after Bnei Yisroel received the Torah. After having been encamped at the foot of Sinai for about a year, Hashem tells Moshe, "Enough of your circling this har/הר /Mountain, turn yourselves צפונה/northward..."

The Bobover Rebbe in Kedushat Zion offers a unique interpretation of these instructions. Instead of interpreting the word הר as mountain, the Rebbe is telling us that Bnei Yisroel was internalizing the word formed by the letters that surround the letters of the word har. The two letters that surround the heh, and the two letters that surround the reish form the word קדוש/holy. The message here, says the Kedushat Zion, is that one cannot climb the mountain of sanctity without first getting rid of the negative. Turn צפונה, not northward, but to that which is צפון, hidden within you. Root out the yetzer horo within you, and then you can ascend the mountain of holiness. As you are about to enter the place of holiness, remove the negativity within yourselves.

Before one can plant the seeds of holiness, one must first prepare the soil. One must hoe, rake and remove the weeds if the seeds one plants are to grow effectively. If we are not working on who we are, writes Rabbi Yecheskel Levenstein, we will not grow spiritually. When we do mitzvoth and acts of chesed, are we doing it, even unconsciously for personal reasons, for public opinion for example, or are we truly acting "for the sake of Heaven?" Look into you tzafun, into the secret recesses of your psyche, and judge your motivation. Even Cain, when he brought an offering to Hashem at the beginning of time, did not understand that Hashem refused his offering because he brought his gift begrudgingly, giving the bare minimum and poorest of his produce, while his brother brought the best and fattest of his sheep, expressing a deep sense of gratitude. Cain did not understand that Hashem was dissatisfied with his motivation rather than with the gift itself.

Hashem tells Bnei Yisroel to travel to the mountains and the lowlands, to the seacoast, the lands, and the areas of the Euphrates. But this is not the topography just of the Canaanites and the Emorites. Within each tribe there were multiple topographies with different conditions. The lesson is that we must learn to serve Hashem wherever we are, whatever the conditions, whether we are on a high peak in our lives or in a lowly situation, writes Rabbi Rabinowitz in Tiv Hatorah. Making Hashem King over us, as we declare on every Rosh Hashanah, applies at all times and in every situation. Every situation has the potential for kedushah/sanctity, adds Rabbi Zvi Meir Silverberg, and we must be ready to serve Hashem in every terrain of our lives.

Parshat Devarim is always read before Tisha B'Av. The Shvilei Pinchas offers us an insight into a message hidden in the Parshah, a message that would help us survive in galus/exile. We had been circling Sinai in the area of Mount Seir/Edom, and Hashem says, "Move on. If you find yourself in danger of connecting with this Roman-Seir exile, hide/tzefone in the Batei Medrash," for Hashem will secure/yitzpon the Torah for the upright. The yetzer horo is afraid to enter the kedushah of Beit Medrash.

If we try to run away from the yetzer horo, it will continue to pursue us, and you are continuously circling the mountain. Enough. Turn to the world of Torah, writes Rabbi Kofman in Mishchat Shemen, citing the Chasam Sofer. Use the Torah to go inside your hidden self to get rid of the negativity and evil. Study how to have the proper focus when performing mitzvoth. Serve Hashem with the entirety of your heart, for that will bring the redemption.

When performing the mitzvoth, your heart must be fully committed, not counterfeit. The Haftorah of Parshat Devarim, Isaiah 40, records the failings of the generation of the exile: "Your silver has become dross, your heady wine mixed with water" (Verse 22). They would take copper coins and plate them with silver, or water down expensive wine hoping to deceive the buyer. Are we doing the same with our service to Hashem, putting on an air of devoutness while inside we are far from connecting to Hashem in our prayers and mitzvah observance? "Who asked you to lirmos chatzeroy/trample My courtyards. [Perhaps, in our context, we can see an allusion to mirmah/deception, "Who asked you to come to My courtyards with deception?" CKS] The doors of the courtyard would open and close because there was nothing of value left to protect. Inauthentic observance and lip service is empty and cannot impact anyone, especially not future generations.

A good test of authenticity would be our observance of Shabbos, continues Rabbi Kofman. If we observe Shabbat with the proper love and intention, Shabbat transforms us so that our hearts themselves become like soap, cleansing agents, as the Shabbat piyut/sacred song testifies. [How many stories have we heard about assimilated Jews, teenagers and adults, who were so positively impacted by experiencing Shabbat in an Orthodox home that they themselves started practicing their Judaism? CKS] Our children, our guests recognize whether our commitment is superficial or emotional and authentic, and follow our example.

Just as a human being has truth and secrets deeply hidden within him, so does the Torah have truth hidden in the white spaces behind the visible, black written letters. Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire offers the example of the letter פ/peh as is it written on a Torah scroll. It must have a notch in the vertical, back line so that the inner, white spaces form the letter ב/bet. [This is not clear on the font in this text. CKS.] The black letters signify the knowledge of Torah and mitzvoth, the visible practice of Judaism, while the white spaces symbolize the deep internal connection to the Torah, the spirit and light of Godly existence that animates the entire world. [As our Sages proclaim, the Torah is written in black fire on white fire. CKS]

When we are in galus, all we feel is the black letters, but when Moshiach will come, the inner light will be revealed. We can help that light emerge by accessing the inner light within ourselves through our Torah and mitzvah observance. This period of the Three Weeks is an opportune time to work on igniting that fire.

If we now go back to taking our verse literally, that Hashem is telling us to go north, [Devarim 2:3] we encounter a problem. After all, the shulchan/table with the show bread, representing wealth, the physical and material, was in the northern side of the Tabernacle, while the menorah, representing the light of Torah knowledge and Godliness was on the south. How could Hashem instruct us to turn northward?

The Shvilei Pinchas discusses this conundrum. In truth, we live in a physical world and we must be concerned with earning a living. We must turn north, but we should not settle in the north. We should stay focused and rooted on the south. Even as you struggle with your daily bread, find pockets of time for Torah study. The destruction of the Temple and our exile happened, says the Gemarra , because Bnei Yisroel didn't recite a brachah before studying Torah. What does that mean? Writes Halekach Vehalebuv citing the Chasam Sofer, because they were not only facing north, but living totally and focusing on the north. Therefore, Torah study gave them no joy. Why recite a blessing?

The world is in chaos and destruction when man sees himself as the center of the world, writes Rabbi Pincus. When we put God again as the center of the world, we will be able to bring redemption, order, and joy back to the world. When we again realize shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro/that all existence is only through His word, then we will merit the redemption. Tisha B'Av is the time to internalize this message. It is the day Moshiach is born. He may already be here, waiting for us to be ready. When we can turn to our hidden, innermost desires to connect with Hashem and living accordingly, Hashem will send Moshiach from the hidden world to the visible world, and we will be on our way to redemption and to a rebuilt Beit Hamikdosh.