Sefer D’varim: The Fifth Book of the Torah
The Ninth Day of Av, Completing Vacation Season, and Preparation for the High Holy Days in Shir KI
This Shabbat always marks the midpoint of the summer vacation season. The weather is still warm and the days are long. But as we begin D’varim, the fifth and last book of the Torah, we all sense that this calm and restful part of our lives will soon be replaced by the resumption of school, shorter days, cooler weather, and the exciting preparation for the High Holy Days.
On this coming Shabbat, Jews the world over will begin to read the book of D’varim/Deuteronomy. There are several major changes of content and tone in the book of Deuteronomy from what has come before. The very first sentence tells us what to anticipate: “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel in the country across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plains near Suf.” The majority of the book is spoken in the first person, a dramatic change from the earlier four books. Moshe, described in Exodus as K’vad Peh, a heavy mouth and tongue, or a stutterer, has found the ability to deliver his teachings forcefully and with conviction after the 40 years since he led the Israelites in their departure from Egypt, to Mount Sinai, and the wandering in the desert.
Moshe begins the first of three major orations to the Israelites prior to handing over leadership to Joshua. Moses teaches and narrates almost the entire book up to his death in the very last few verses. This is a drastic change from the language of the earlier books.
Deuteronomy transpires in the shortest time period of all five books compared to the earlier volumes of the Torah. Only 36 days pass by from the beginning of D’varim to its completion. Genesis, including the creation of the world and the history of the patriarchal period, takes eons of years! The book of Exodus lasts about four hundred years. Vayikra and B’midbar/Leviticus and Numbers, span the forty-year period of wandering in the Sinai Desert. But from the start of Moshe’s first oration until his death, only five weeks pass by.
The first portion of the book, also called D’varim, is comprised of three chapters. After establishing the date of the beginning of the book and the loca-tion of the twelve tribes after the completion of the 40 year wandering, Moses begins the first of his three discourses. He reviews the procession from Mount Sinai, called Horeb in this portion, to the Promised Land.
The people had listened to the negative report of 10 of the 12 spies about what they would find in the Promised Land. They refuse to go forward, and G-d deems them to be unworthy to enter Israel, sending everyone back to the wilderness. Thirty-eight years later, the last of the Egyptian generation has died out, the new generation of Israelites born in the wilderness enter Moab, and G-d allows them to proceed to battle with the tribes that are blocking their way. Moses apportions the newly conquered lands to several of the Israelite tribes. The Sidrah ends with the confirmation of Joshua as Moshe’s successor.
On this coming Saturday night, Jews the world over will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the Ninth Day of the month of Av. Tisha B’Av, the traditional Hebrew name of this day, is an historical fast, not a spiritual journey to repentance that happens on Yom Kippur. On this 25-hour fast day, we remember many of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people in our history. Among the calamities that have occurred on The Ninth of Av are the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE; the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE; the defeat of the Bar Kochba Revolt by the Romans in 135 CE, and other medieval and modern tragedies resulting in the loss of Jewish lives. In contemporary Jewish history, Heinrich Himmler receives approval from the Nazi party to commence the Final Solution on August 2, 1941. On July 23, 1942, the mass deportation of Jews begins from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka death camp.
During the 25-hour period from sundown to sundown, many Jews fast for the entire time. The book of Lamentations/Eicha, ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, is chanted according to a mournful melody as congregants sit on low benches.
I learned about Tisha B’Av when I was a teenage camper at Camp Ramah. Jewish camps of every denomination use Tisha B’Av to teach Jewish history and practices unique to this fast day. There is an upward and optimistic feeling as Tisha B’Av ends. We know that only seven weeks will transpire until the High Holy Days are upon us.
The summer season should be a time both to rest and to achieve major goals! My beloved wife, Ellen, and I began to learn pickle ball in our Pocono community, the latest game sweeping the USA! And I was able to ride my bicycle successfully for the first time since my knee surgery last November! We celebrated the fifth birthday of our grandson, Micah Toby Tilman, son of Rabbi Howard and Naomi Tilman. We give thanks to Almighty G-d for having participated in our “Einikel’s” birthday celebration!
Once again, I want to invite you to attend the beginning rehearsals of our fabulous adult volunteer choir, Shir KI, beginning on Tuesday evening, August 23, at 7 pm sharp! Our choir sings the glorious, exalted, and joyous music of the High Holy Day liturgy together with our beloved Cantor Amy Levy and virtuoso organist Andrew Senn. I serve as conductor of our choir. We need new singers in every section! Please call or write to Cantor Levy and me for additional information.
Ellen and all our family join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom U’m’vorach!