"These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel"
The vivid scene beckons us: Perched on the eastern bank of the Jordan river, the city of Jericho shimmering in the distance through the hot vapors rising from the sun baked earth of the land of Israel, the children of Israel, men, women and infants alike, sit rapt with attention, as Moshe Rabbenu - Moses our master - opens what is to be his final address to his people. They have come so far from the exile and degradation of Egypt. They have trekked through the blistering desert sands. They have overcome hunger and thirst. They have defended themselves from spiritual warfare, and have prevailed in military conflict. The promised land awaits them.
They are weary from their journey through space and through time. They are apprehensive, excited, nervous. They long to cross the river, yet tremble at the thought of the challenges that await them on the other side. They long to cross the river, yet they could remain here forever in the desert, and never realize the time.
But for their leader Moses, his time has come. He won't be making that journey to the other side. He will soon ascend Mount Nevo as G-d has instructed him, and look one last time into the promised land that he is destined not to enter, before he is buried in an unknown grave. Prophet, leader and shepherd of souls to the very end, Moses will spend the next thirty seven days utilizing every breath he has left to exhort his people to become the people that G-d and Torah expects them to become. To be fearless, intrepid, determined, and ruthless when necessary, as they enter the land and lay claim to their future: the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, a House for G-d - His sanctuary on Mount Moriah.
This is the book of Deuteronomy - Devarim - which we begin reading in synagogues this coming Shabbat, on the eve of the Ninth of Av. The sharp juxtaposition between a people about to fulfill their destiny and a people mourning the devastating loss of this destiny nearly 2000 years ago, is stunning. How do we make the connection? The dissonance cuts like a knife to the heart. Are our glory days behind us? Is all that remains for us is to cry out in anguish, tear our clothes and rub our foreheads with ashes?
Moses, before he died, was invited by G-d to ascend Mount Nevo, from where he was able to see the length and the breadth of the land of Israel. Midrash teaches us that G-d also afforded him a vision that included all the goings-on in the land of Israel until the end of days. It was only then, assured of his people's future, that Moses was gathered up to his fathers.
We, too, have been wandering in a wilderness for some forty years. In 1967 the Temple Mount was liberated from foreign hands. A great opportunity and a great challenge became ours to pursue. Yet rather than crossing that river into a new reality, from exile to redemption, from a scattered, oppressed nation, to a nation in whose midst G-d resides, we have hesitated, made excuses, pointed our fingers and shrugged our shoulders. Our enemies, today's Pharaohs, see our confusion, rub their hands in delight and say, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness has shut them in." (Exodus 14:3)
Fear not, Children of Israel: Moses our master still exhorts us to be strong and of courage, to take fate - the destiny, the purpose, the mission promised us - into our own hands, and truly enter this land and establish G-d's presence here in our midst.
We are told that on the conclusion of the Yom Kippur fast we are to immediately take up our hammers and begin the construction of our sukkot. May we conclude the upcoming fast of the ninth of Av with the same zeal and determination, taking up our hammers, and beginning immediately the construction of His house:
"Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the book of Deuteronomy, the Torah reading of Devarim, Moses the paradigm of leadership, and the urgency of rebuilding the House of G-d, even as we approach the Tish'a B'Av fast.
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