Weekly Torah Parashat – Parashat Devarim

Parashat Devarim

by: Rhonda Goodrich-Rawis

Each week I am saddened to say goodbye to the Torah portion, as I know I have not had time to even skim the surface of the amazing wisdom and insight it holds.  It’s especially sad on a week like this when we say goodbye (or better yet, “until we meet again”) to not only a portion, but the final portion and the book of Bamidbar.  Maybe that is one reason why we utter the words, “Chazaq!, chazaq!, v’nitchazeq!” (Be Strong! Be Strong! And may we be strengthened!) And yet that sadness disappears quickly as I begin to read and study the next portion and the book of Devarim.

When I see people getting excited over sporting events or other entertainment venues, and wish they would understand how exciting it is to quietly seek Hashem’s heart and wisdom as revealed in the Torah.  For me, that is so much more exciting, and I feel no desire to be entertained by the world’s vanities when I am focused on the amazing, eternal lessons just waiting to be discovered and absorbed.  And I am never disappointed!  With that said, let’s jump into Devarim and see what pleasure awaits……

This portion is always read on the Shabbat prior to the 9th of Av. In each generation that the temple is still not rebuilt, I have heard it said that it is as if the Temple is being destroyed all over again.  Do we fully understand the significance of the Temple’s destruction?  How many of us have spent these first days of the month of Av reflecting on its significance and the sadness that it should provoke?  Do we even realize what has been lost?

During the first 9 days of the month of Av, Jewish people do not eat meat or poultry or drink wine, as the destruction of the Temple(s) brought the cessation of the daily sacrifices and the wine libations.  (The exception to this rule being the meat and wine consumed on Shabbat or as part of a celebration meal).  Also, one does not launder her clothing (the exception being a baby’s) nor wear freshly laundered clothing.  There are other restrictions followed as well, such as: not swimming or bathing for pleasure, not planting shade or fragrance trees (non-fruit bearing), not buying, sewing, weaving or knitting new clothing, and not trimming one’s nails.

This Shabbat preceding the 9th of Av is called Shabbat Chazon, “Shabbat of the Vision”, and the haftarah is Yeshayahu 1:1-27 – the Chazon Yeshayahu, or “vision of Isaiah”, in which Isaiah foresees the coming destruction of the Temple.  Chazal tell us that the first Temple was destroyed for the three major sins of idolatry, adultery, and murder.  The second Temple was destroyed for baseless hatred among the people.  This teaches us that the single sin of baseless hatred for our fellow man is tantamount to idolatry, adultery and murder!

Let’s talk for a minute about baseless hatred.  What does it mean to “love our neighbor as ourselves”?  Is love something that is motivated by our feelings?  Absolutely not!  Sometimes our feelings come from an unclean source.  And whenever that source desires, it can abandon us, taking those “feelings” with it.  We must be careful to never base our love for G-d, or for our brothers and sisters, on our feelings.  When we recite the Shema, we vow to love G-d with all our hearts, when we lie down and when we arise.  This can be understood to mean that we must love Him when we feel low, sad, or distant from Him; as well as when we feel uplifted, elevated and closer to Him.  Our love for Him is not to be dependent on how we “feel”.

As we contemplate the destruction of the Temples and all the other terrible things that have happened throughout history on this ominous day (the 9th of Av), I find encouragement in the teaching of the Ari (R’ Isaac Luria), who teaches that the Moshiach will be born on the 9th of Av.  There is therefore a very positive energy available on this day, and it is our job is to figure out how we can connect to it, so we can usher in the coming of the Moshiach, and the long-awaited final redemption of the nation of Israel.

In this week’s sidra, Moshe reminds the people about all the mistakes they had made during their journey, and what could be done to correct them.  Moshe wasn’t telling them this just to chastise them.  He truly wanted to help them.   This is a really important point.  We are on a spiritual journey, and when our mistakes are revealed to us by someone who has a sincere desire to help us on our ascent to Hashem, they will not be revealed through anger or with ulterior motives.  The Kabbalah teaches that a person should wait three days before responding to a perceived misdeed, and not to just act impulsively after our ego and yetzer hara have been provoked.  Some of our Sages teach that we should wait until at least one Shabbat has passed before we respond.  The hope is, of course, that time will soften our pain and anger, and reverse the negative energy the situation has created, replacing it with positive energy and words of correction intended to help.   When we react based on our feelings and our own self-interest, it is never useful, nor does it do anything to help in the spiritual development of the other person.  Not only will we not help the situation, it will likely result in further hurt and more negative energy.   It is always important to take the time to contemplate the effect our words will have on the hearer – will they be heard as positive or negative?  Will they help heal or cause further destruction?

Let’s face it dealing with people is difficult, at best!!  But spirituality is about who we are and how we live our daily lives here in this physical world.  We have to learn how to interact with others, and how to share with them and deal proactively with them.   If we cannot do that, then it is a tell-tale sign that we have, at best, acquired some information, but information without action is worthless.  If we don’t use what we have learned, then all our learning was a waste of time.  All of our suffering and the resulting chaos in our lives is often the result of our inability to treat each other with basic human dignity.

“Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care!”

Too often we are quick to be intolerant, judgmental and insensitive, and we respond with reactive, emotional behavior.  Ask yourself, how do you respond when someone hurts your feelings or something goes “wrong”? (meaning not as we would like it to happen)

The whole “balagan” (Yiddish word meaning “a disorderly, confusing, and/or overwhelming situation”) that has been written throughout history on the 9th of Av began with the story of the 10 spies.  The Midrash tells us that they had a personal agenda, not wanting to lose their title and authority.  So, they told their infamous story, and not only did they die, they took an entire generation down with them.

“These spies which Moshe sent caused grief for the later generations, since on that same date the first and second temples were destroyed.  This caused the departure from Israel of thousands and tens of thousands, and furthermore it caused the disappearance of the Shechinah from the Land of Israel.”  (Zohar, Shlach Lecha 4:17)

Therefore, we see how the negative energy generated by others can have a power effect on many.  But, so too, the power of a single person’s positive energy can provide protection for many.  Ruth fulfilled that role for the people of Moav, as did Rehav did for her family.  So, we should never lose heart, knowing that our positive actions can and will have a positive effect, for a very long time, and probably in ways we could never imagine.

“This day I begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the people everywhere under heaven, so that they shall tremble and quake because of you whenever they hear you mentioned.”  (Devarim 2:25)

Hashem has instilled a fear of the Jews in the people whose lands they travel through.  The Jews are told this in an effort to help them to let go of their own fears.  Fear is so very powerful and can be so crippling!!  It can prevent us from getting what we deserve, and going where we should go.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can look back at the things we have been fearful of in the past, and realize how baseless our fears were.  When we have assurances from Hashem, we should have no problem moving past our fears.

“Do not fear them, for it is Hashem your G-d who will battle for you.”  (Devarim 3:22)

In Sefer Hamidot (the book of traits), the following are some of the things said of fear:

  • Fear causes obstacles
  • Through trust, you can be saved from fear
  • Through charity, one can annul fear
  • Fear weakens the strength of man
  • One who has fears should sing joyful melodies
  • One who is not careful in reciting the blessings before and after eating, fears come upon him
  • Through the attribute of trust, you will not have fear
  • In a house where there is fear, the Sitra Achra (the Force of evil) certainly has a share
  • Fear comes as a result of flattery
  • Through worry comes fear
  • Through fear comes falsehoods
  • Fear comes through anger
  • If one has fear, it is a sign that G-d has hidden His face from him, and that harsh judgments are upon him
  • When some fear comes upon a person, he should know that some trouble has befallen his soul twin
  • Sometimes a person experiences fear just before some good comes his way

The opposite of fear is trust.  When we trust Hashem, and truly believe, Ein Od Milvado, that there is no other reality beside Him, we should fear no one or no thing.  I believe the soul naturally yearns to trust in Hashem.  None of us want to live with anxiety and worry.  And yet, I see in reality that many people are held back by their fears.

“Blessed is he who trusts in the L-rd, whose trust is the L-rd alone.  He shall be like a tree planted by waters, sending forth its roots by a stream; it does not sense the coming of heat, its leaves are ever fresh; it has no care in a year of drought, it does not cease to yield fruit.”   (Yirmeyahu 17:7-8)

So, as we just skim the surface of this amazing Torah portion, we see lessons in loving one another; helping each other on our spiritual journey through genuine, caring rebuke; and how to overcome our fear and to trust that Hashem knows what He’s doing and what we need and even our heart’s desires.

Ladies, I pray this encourages each of you on your spiritual journey. I pray we look for and find ways to show our love to each other, even when it means we must correct each other, and may we find the strength to continue our journey without fear, knowing Who is in charge.  May we create positive energy and create positive outcomes with our thoughts, words and actions!

“Chazaq!, chazaq!, v’nitchazeq!”

Be blessed and be a blessing,


About the author
Rhonda has traveled from Utah to Toronto in what seemed to be a season of wanderlusting, which ended up being a relocation in the making. Using her life experiences, Rhonda teaches from the heart and is a perfect example of what it means to follow your heart and dedicate yourself to your spiritual community. Join Rhonda every week as she gives us our Weekly Manna on the Torah Portion for Women.

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