This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Chazon,” the “Shabbat of Vision” named so because of the first Hebrew word of the Haftarah reading from the prophecy of Isaiah 1:1-27. This Shabbat always precedes Tisha B'Av, the Ninth day of Av, which is the saddest day in Jewish history because on this very day both First and Second Temples were destroyed and many other tragedies befell the Jewish people.
"The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz... Hear, o heavens, and give ear, o earth; for Yehovah has spoken, "I have reared and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me... To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" said Yehovah; "I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of male goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this at your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense of abomination they are to Me."
The Sages point out that the prophet does not lament because the Bet HaMikdash, the Temple, was destroyed, but rather he laments over the underlying causes of that destruction, how Israelis turned worshiping God into a routine exercise without emotions and, worst, coming in front of God with unrepentant sin. This annual lesson must serve to focus the national mourning of Tisha B'Av not to the past, but to the present. It is not enough to lament the great loss suffered by our people with the destruction of the Temple, we must use our fast and mourning as a way of initiating an examination of our present-day feelings, thoughts, and deeds. How have we improved our approach to God and our service to Him as a way of life? Do we have a personal relationship with God? Do we approach Him with a righteous fear of the divine?
Notice that God is not against sacrifices or observing His Holy Days and His Shabbat, but He is against the way we observe them. Is our worship today, our verbal offerings, like the animal-offerings described by the prophet, merely mindlessly performed rituals, never internalized, never spoken from the heart, just from the lips? Is our faith expressed just for the sake of our ancestors, rituals without meaning? Do we raise clean hands to God? Are our prayers sincere and meaningful? Do we practice during the week what we have said on Shabbat? Something to ponder as we come to worship on this Tisha B'Av Shabbat and read the Parashah of the week.
"Entering The Promised Land"
Parashah Devarim begins the fifth book of Moshe. The name of the book is taken from the opening phrase in the Hebrew text, “Eleh haDevarim,” - “These are the Words.” However, the oldest name of the book was “Mishneh Torah,” “the Repetition of the Torah,” a phrase based on chapter 17 verse 18. The Greek-speaking Jews translated this name in the Septuagint as Deuteronomion, i.e. “The Second Law;” and this title was taken over by the English versions as Deuteronomy.
Moshe had brought the people to the borders of the Holy Land. He then recounts in three discourses the events of the forty years' wanderings, warning against the temptations awaiting them in Canaan with promise of Divine judgment for disobedience, and Divine blessing for faithful observance of God's commandments. The second discourse includes a rehearsal of the principal laws, as these were to be observed in the new Land. These laws are given with amplification or abbreviation, and even modification to meet the new conditions. His farewell speech is in a form of a song with which he celebrates God as the Rock of Israel. Standing in the land of Moab, he gives his parting blessing to the tribes whose physical and religious welfare had been the labor of his last forty years; he then ascends Mount Nebo to the burial place which no man knows for Yehovah Himself buried him. Moshe was one hundred and twenty years old, his eyes had not dimmed and his vigor had not diminished. May we all maintain the vigor of our faith and never get tired of doing God’s work as Moses did.
Devarim is a unique book, distinct from the narrative, historical, legal, or prophetic writings of the Torah, though it has similarities with each of them. Devarim gives utterance to truths which are always and everywhere sovereign: that God is One, and that man must dedicate his whole life to Him; that God's character is Righteousness and Faithfulness, Mercy and Love. The central declaration of all this oratory - enshrined by Judaism in its daily devotions - is the Shema: "Shema Yisrael, Hear Israel, Yehovah Eloheinu Yehovah is One."
The God proclaimed in Devarim stands in a relation to Israel and humanity not merely as Judge or Ruler, but as Father and Friend. “And you shall love Yehovah your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This whole-soul love and devotion to God is to be accompanied by benevolence towards man; by applying the retributive righteousness of God to all beings; and by the insistence on the vital importance of family life and of religious instruction within the home. The influence of these "Farewell Discourses" of Moshe on the lives of Israelis throughout the millennia, has never been exceeded by that of any other Book of the Torah. Deuteronomy, aside from Psalms, is the most quoted book by Yeshua.
In the introductory verses Moshe starts recounting the long strings of sins and rebellions that marked the forty years in the wilderness and describing the boundaries of the Land promised to Avraham, Ytzhak and Ya’akov which would have been the Promised Land if they would have gone directly into it, but because of their rebellions it was modified as detailed in the previous book of Numbers.
We are also informed of the precise location and time of Moshe’s discourse: on the other side of the Jordan River, on the fortieth year, on the eleventh month, on the first of the month. In the book of Joshua we read that the people were to cross Jordan into the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month of the new year and they were to observe Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of that month.
But why such a detailed timing? That is because God wants us to know that nothing in His Torah, in His teachings, is arbitrary or coincidental. He wants us to understand that all events are under His control and that they are for us to understand their meaning, especially when he sent His Son, the promised Messiah, that it was in the fullness of time, not one day too early or too late, to redeem us from the wrath of not obeying God’s commandments written in the Torah. Even though the dispensation of grace started when God sacrificed the first animal to clothe Adam — and thus Adam did not die for his sin - Torah was given to us as a tutor to know what sin is, to make a distinction between holy and profane, between right and wrong, to discern what is good, but in itself obeying Torah cannot save. Salvation is by faith alone and it was granted to Adam, to Avraham, to Moshe, and to every man and woman who put his and her trust in God.
Therefore, in the spiritual realm, corresponding to this entrance into the Promise Land of God’s people is Yeshua’s triumphal entry in Jerusalem on the tenth day of the first month, and His death on the fourteenth, as the Passover Lamb of God. Moshe, representing the sacrificial system based on animal sacrifices, could not have entered the Promised Land, but entrance is granted by faith as of Joshua, faith which is based only on the word of God. Joshua believed God forty years prior, before the giving of he Torah, when God told them to enter the Land, and God chose Joshua to lead the Israelites into this Land. We further read God’s instruction to Joshua: “This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to observe and to do according to all that is written in it, for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall act wisely.”
Faith comes by believing in the word of God, which points to and presents a Redeemer who is the only One that can cover and atone for our sins, because all of our works and good deeds are just like filthy rags in God's eyes (Isaiah 64:6), but after coming to that faith, just as Joshua is instructed, our heart’s desire is to obey and behave as commanded by God in His Torah and to do the works of God.
Shabbat joy, peace and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!
PS: Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk used to say: "I have not succeeded in teaching my disciples never to sin, and only to perform good deeds. However, I have managed to make them different from other people. Most perform their good deeds in public and their transgressions in private, but my Hassidim perform their transgressions in public and their good deeds in private."
PS: "Rabbi Elazar said: 'Be diligent in the study of Torah; know what to answer an unbeliever; and know before Whom you toil, and Who your employer is that will pay you the reward of your labor.' "
"Rabbi Tarfon said: 'The day is short, the work is much, the workmen are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.' He used to say: 'It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, yet you are not free to desist from it.' "
From Pirkei Avot
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