"Behold, you are today as the stars of the heavens in abundance."
The book of Deuteronomy in its entirety, is made up of the words of Moses which he addresses to the children of Israel on the eve of their entering the land of Israel, the land promised them by G-d. Moses himself won't be entering the land with them, and these are his final words. Much of what Moses delivers is rebuke. He couches his words carefully, often alluding to past misdeeds of the Israelites subtly and modestly, so as not to cause his people excessive anguish or embarrassment. His words of chastisement are meant to be corrective and not punitive. Nevertheless, they are sufficiently harsh and their sting surely smarted.
How odd that Moses should choose to rebuke. Farewell addresses and retirement speeches, even when delivered under duress, or after a particularly troubled relationship, almost always strike a positive note. Past achievements, rather than disappointments, are recalled. Moments of rancor are omitted, happier occasions are noted. After all, we all like to part on amicable terms.
However, Moses was not simply retiring from public life. He wasn't interested in summing up his own spectacular rise to prominence. He was not writing his memoirs. Moses had one concern, and one concern only. It was the same concern that had thrust him from the life of privilege in Pharaoh's court to a life of public service and self-sacrifice eighty long years ago. It was the same concern that carried him through ridicule and disappointment when he returned to Egypt upon G-d's command. And it was the same concern that inspired him to stay the course for forty years in the wilderness, despite the frustrations and provocations that confronted him along the way. This concern was for the children of Israel. His people. His flock. It was this profound, prophetic concern for the children of Israel which spoke from the lips of Moses.
If his words were harsh, it was because he knew how far his people could stray. If his criticism stung, it was because, seeing far into the future, he knew the great challenges and deadly pitfalls that awaited them. These were not the words of an embittered, disillusioned leader. These were the words of a loving, caring father. For every word of rebuke, there appears in Deuteronomy, words of praise and encouragement. Moses' love for his people knew no bounds. For him, they were, individually, and as a people, like "the stars of the heavens..." (Deuteronomy 1:10) Each individual a world, each soul a source of light. United as a people they would light up the firmament, illuminating the way in a world often shrouded in darkness. These were the people which Moses led.
Little wonder that the opening chapters of Deuteronomy are read each year on the Shabbat preceding Tish'a b'Av - the Ninth of Av. The month of Av is properly known as Menachem Av, literally, "the comforting father." Despite the great and bitter rebuke G-d's children received on the Ninth of Av, the day of the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, and the great pain that we endure to this day, we must bear in mind and in our hearts, that this is the rebuke of a caring, loving father, a Menachem Av - our loving Father in heaven. The rebuke having past, it is now time for reconciliation. Great things await us!
Tune in to the week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the opening verses of Deuteronomy, Moses' farewell address to his people, Rashi, the redoubtable repository of Torah wisdom, Moses' poignant and sensitive words of rebuke tempered with love, as only a loving father could, and the new month of Av, chiefly identified with bleak mourning, but which, if we understand why we mourn, we can begin to change the darkness into light..