Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Devarim - 5776

My friends,

This Shabbat we begin the reading of the fifth book of the Torah - Devarim.

Before Moses dies, and before the Children of Israel enter the Promised Land, Moses delivers a farewell speech which recalls the events of the past forty years, as well as admonitions and teachings. Moses emphasizes the importance of keeping the Torah, if the people wish to live in peace and security in the Promised Land.

This Parasha is always read on the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha B'Av, the national day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile from Israel. In our long history, the ninth of Av, has not been a good day for our people. That is the day when the spies returned from the forty days of touring Israel. That night the people stayed in their tents and cried all night, worried of what awaits them in this new land. Because of their lack of faith, God decreed that that generation will die during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

The Children of Israel enter and conquer the land, and establish a Jewish commonwealth that lasts for many centuries. But on Tisha B'Av in the year 586 BCE, the Babylonians destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and exile the people to Babylon. The Jews return to Israel after seventy years, rebuild their Temple and Jerusalem, and Israel lives on this land for the next 650 years.

In the year 70 CE, the Romans prevail in their war against the Jews. The Temple, Jerusalem and most cities in Israel are destroyed and the people exiled or sold as slaves into the four corners of the world. That exile lasts for 1878 years until Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948.

On the Ninth of Av in 1492, Spain forces more than 200,000 Jews into exile for refusing to convert to Christianity.

This is why Tisha B'Av is observed as a day of fasting and mourning, reflecting on Jewish history.

The readings chosen for this Shabbat and for Tisha B'Av this Sunday emphasize the importance of living in a just and righteous society. Without those elements, no society can live in peace.

I wonder what Isaiah and Jeremiah would say, observing our world today.

We as Jews who prevailed after all these calamities, are urged to continue to 'Seek and pray for the peace of Jerusalem'.

Shabbat Shalom,