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R' Feldman's Derasha - Parashat Devarim (August 10, 2019)

08/13/2019 11:17:23 AM


I mentioned the serendipity of the placement of the double Parasha last week in the way it emphasizes the importance of Eretz Yisrael.  The timing is also explained by the need to make sure this week’s Parasha always comes out before Tisha B’Av is observed. We hear Moshe Rabenu retell the story of the spies, which originally culminated in a disaster on  this day, on Tisha B’Av.  

The book of Devarim is Moshe Rabenu’s valedictory speech.  But he’s not using all of it to say goodbye. At least not here in the beginning.  The first few verses identify this as taking place on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, which means he has 37 days to go.  Goodbye can wait.  

He begins instead with a stroll down memory lane.  He brings up immediately an unhappy memory -- it wasn’t so nice when it happened and it’s not so nice now. 
But there is a strategy here in mentioning the episode of the spies, two points of which I want to convey today.  First he wants to get across a certain attitude toward history. As he tells the story of the spies, he refers over and over to his audience in the second person plural -- you all did this and you all did that.  To whom does he address all of that? What generation is he speaking to? We’re in year forty. All of the “you’s” have already died, and this is a new generation.

We see here that he’s not speaking to single people here.  He’s speaking to a people, a nation. When we think about the history we’re going to speak about tomorrow, it’s because of the identification we have with those earlier generations.  They are us and we are them.  

The second point has to do with why he has chosen the spies among the episodes of the past.  It is not random. The overall opening speech is in two halves, each with two parts. The two prongs to the first half relay what happened when he told the people to go up to the land.  They initially said “not so fast, we want to send spies" -- and then the spies turn that into a “no.” When they are told how wrong they are to refuse, then they suddenly want to go up to make up for the problem.  Now Moshe says no, it won’t work. And they go anyway, which ends badly.

What is in the second half of the speech?  It jumps 38 years ahead to relatively recent history.  Now he goes in reverse order, and relays episodes in which he told them not to start up with Esav or Amon or Moav.  To this, they listened. And then he tells them to conquer Sichon and Og. To this they listen, and they were successful.  

The four episodes are inside out -- first he says to conquer and they say no, then he tells them not to conquer and they again refuse.  Jump ahead 38 years and he tells them first not to conquer, and then to conquer, but this time they listen.

What is the difference?  A changing of the generations.  Moshe Rabenu’s message in bringing up the spies is not to have everyone wallow in the failures of the past.  It is to draw a contrast with recent history in order to encourage them about the future. A simple shift from rebellion to obedience can make that much of a difference.  What he wants them to see now is that no matter what has been disastrous in the past, they can build forward into the future. There is an aspect of sitting on Tisha B’Av which is about abject guilt.  We’re here again; it must be because we haven’t fixed the problem. But Klal Yisrael never wallows. It gets up, brushes itself off, and builds again.

Fri, February 28 2020 3 Adar 5780