Finding ourselves

Through the Lens of Torah: Devarim Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22

Moshe Kempinski,


Life rushes by us so quickly we sometimes lose our bearings. At times we forget where we are in our life, either because of our preoccupation with events from our past or with visions or fears of the future. Without a clear sense of where or who we really are is the prescription for disaster. As a result we spend so much time thinking of “where we would rather be” than focusing on “where we are”. We become stuck on “what isn’t “rather than on “what is”. As a result we lose the power to create “what could be”.

The Torah portion of Devarim is always read before the fast day of Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) that commemorates the destruction of the first and second temple. This is mainly due to the fact that in this Torah portion we are reminded again of the sin of the spies that occurred exactly on the Ninth day of Av (Tisha B’Av).

At the borders of the biblical land of Israel Moshe wanted the twelve scouts to explore the land reveal its greatness and bring back tidings of its promise. Ten of these men did not have the vision to do that. All they saw was their own unworthiness, “And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:33 ).

They were stymied by their own fears and insecurities. The sages in tractate Taanit ( 29a) state that the children of Israel cried a Bichiya Shel Chinam,(a baseless weeping) on that night so Hashem responds by saying, “You cried for nothing, in the future, this day of Tisha B’av ( the ninth day of the month of Av) is appointed for tragedies and real weeping.

Their failure was based on their faulty view of themselves. Their impaired vision of “we were in our own sight as grasshoppers” weakened them in their journey into destiny. The lost a true sense of how far they have come and also on their potential to achieve so much in the future.

Moshe tries to repair that failure. In the Torah portion, Moshe begins to give over his last instructions to his people. In the midst of these final words he includes teaching, rebuke and hope to his people a mere thirty seven days before he passes away. All his words become critical baggage as his people begin their thousands of years of voyage and destiny.

One would have thought that Moshe’s final words would be filled with hope and encouragement. We would think that they would be words that would give the people a good feeling about themselves. Instead he includes severe rebuke.

The Shem MiShmuel points out that when your enemy ( Like Bilaam) gives you praise, one can safely accept such praise. Just as importantly, when someone who loves you gives you criticism it would be worthwhile to take the criticism seriously. You are being given an opportunity to learn.

Moshe declares to his people;” How ( Eicha ) can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?( Deuteronomy 1:12)

Moshe was not complaining about them , but rather offering a rhetorical question. ” How can I bear all your burden by myself? Moshe is really saying” I could not have done all that without the help of G-d”. That will be the important lesson for the people of Israel to remember in their own history.It would be a lesson for all mankind.

They must remember all their failures, successes and miracles and by so doing , recognize that G-d was an active participant in that whole voyage. It is all about opening up their eyes and looking around the place where they are standing.

The use of the word Eicha in verse 12 is not coincidental.

We in fact see the use of that word again to begin the lamentations that we recite on the eve of the Ninth of Av ,”O how ( Eicha ) has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! “( Lamentations 1:1)

We see the use of the same word in the book of Isaiah when the prophet discusses the results of moving away from G-d’s purpose;

“But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of Hashem spoke.How has ( Eicha) she become a harlot, a faithful city; full of justice, in which righteousness would lodge, but now murderers”:( Isaiah 1:20-21)

The word Eicha is the thread that is woven between these three verses and prods us to look for deeper meaning to them all. It would be an meaning clearly connected to the use of the wordEicha

We perceive that in all those situations, calamity follows when the awareness of G-d’s presence is discounted or ignored. In truth G-d is always ever present but the people are not.

The word Eicha spelled with the Hebrew letters Aleph Yud Chaf and Heh shows up elsewhere in the Torah, but there it is pronounced differently.

After failing with the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve try to hide from G-d.

At that point Hashem calls out to them “And Hashem God called to man, and He said to him, “Where are you ( Ayecha) ?” (Genesis 3:9) (spelled Aleph Yud Chaf and Heh )

Hashem did not need Adam and Eve to tell Him where they were hiding. He in fact wanted them to begin to ask themselves that exact question.“Where are we”? ”Where have you drifted off to” ? Where can we reconnect to the roots and anchor of who we are meant to be?

That is a question that is being asked of us every day of our lives. It is when we find and confront ourselves we gain the empowerment to move forward. At times the question sears like a flaming coal, like on Tisha B’Av. At other times it is a gentle reminder. At all times we need to ponder where are we standing on the path of our growth?

When we determine the answer to that question, we are ready to reconnect, redirect and reengage with our destiny, both as individuals and as part of our people.

Otherwise we will continue to stumble.

LeRefuat Yehudit bar Golda Yocheved VEKOL HaCholim

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