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ECHOES FROM LONG AGO

by Steven Schwartzberg    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"How can (eicha) I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?" (Deuteronomy 1:12).

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"How can (eicha) I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?" (Deuteronomy 1:12).

Our tradition of the trop, or cantorial notes used in chanting the Torah readings, remains constant throughout the Torah, except for a few exceptions, such as the Ten Commandments, the Song by the Sea, and the above-mentioned verse in this week's Torah portion. Why? This verse serves as an introduction to Moses' appointment of judges. What is so powerful about Moses' telling the Jewish people about his court system that puts it on the same level as leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah that it should have a special trop?

On Tisha B'av we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations). Parshat Devarim always comes out on the Shabbat before Tisha B'av, and we read the above verse, which begins with the word "eicha", in the same mournful tune as we will read Lamentations in the coming week. But why? Before Purim, we don't find a verse to read in the same tune as we do Megillat Esther? What is the special connection of this verse, in which Moses tells the people that he had to establish a system of judges, to Tisha B'av? Why did Hashem use the same word that would later fill our hearts with pain and sorrow?

In order to understand, we must look at the root of Tisha B'av. Our sages explain that the second Temple was destroyed because of hatred and strife amongst the Jewish people. Our first Temple was destroyed because of idolatry and other offenses against Hashem, particularly a lack of meticulousness in the observance of His mitzvot. The Jewish people seemed to find and create trouble when none was necessary, bringing about their own destruction.

This was unfortunately not new to the Jewish people, as Moses acknowledged this trait many years before. In the aforementioned verse Moses wondered how he could possibly handle all of the court cases of the three million Jewish people in the desert. How could he handle all of the arguments that would arise among the people? But, wait a second! What arguments could the Jewish people have had? They were in an environment fully sustained by G-d! There were no land-claims over which to argue; no business dealings were necessary because all of the food, clothing, and shelter was provided by Hashem. We are told explicitly of the only cases of outright disobedience of Hashem, and even the only inheritance case (the daughters of Tzlophchad) at the end of the years in the desert was taken directly to Moses, who referred it to Hashem. What reason did the Jews have for arguing, if not argument itself?

This is why Moses lamented. I have to establish a system of judges, he cried, even in an environment where there should be no cause to argue. You have just received the Torah, he tells them, and yet you fail to follow Hashem's commandments as you should?! How can I possibly handle all of your dealings and troubles?

The "eicha" that Moses used, crying over the fact that the Jewish people could not get along with each other, is the very same "eicha" which is the keynote of Tisha B'av. Throughout our history, the Jewish people have fallen victim to their own internal arguments. On Tisha B'av we lament the loss of our Temples and the many ensuing tragedies of Jewish history, and we beseech Hashem to aid us in the building of the third Temple. In Parshat Devarim we are told what we must do to merit that redemption: If it was senseless arguing that Moses lamented, then it would be the exact opposite, seemingly unnecessary kindness, that would have made Moses happy.

May this week's Torah portion teach us a valuable lesson, to be meticulous in the observance of mitzvot, and to love our fellow Jew. May we act upon it so that this Tisha B'av, rather than lament the loss of our first two Temples, we will rejoice in the building of the third.

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Steven Schwartzberg, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, has just returned from a year at Yeshiva Shaarei Mevaseret Zion in Israel, and will attend Harvard University in the fall.

You are invited to read more Parshat Devarim articles.

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