20 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 23, 2019 | Torah Reading: mattot
 
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HomeTorah PortionDavid's HarpOn the Path to Utopia
 
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On the Path to Utopia    

On the Path to Utopia



Parshat Devarim: In the wilderness all of the Jewish People's needs were attended to; but now, as they were about to enter the Holy Land, things would change drastically...

 



There is a well known story told about the founder of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger and his grandson. The grandson, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, author of the book Sfas Emes, was known for his great fervor for the commandment of learning Torah. One time, he studied through the night without resting. By the morning he was understandably tired and placed his head on a table in the study hall to get some well deserved rest. Soon after falling asleep, his holy grandfather, the Chidushi HaRim, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, found him resting and assumed his grandson had fallen asleep in the middle of his regular morning schedule. The Chidushi HaRim woke his grandson and proceeded to lecture him about the importance of diligence and the dangers of laziness. The grandson sat quietly and absorbed his holy grandfather's words without responding. After the grandfather left the room the onlooking students questioned the grandson as to why he hadn't told his grandfather the truth about his all-night vigil. The Sfas Emes said that initially he was thinking about defending his actions but he didn't want to miss the golden opportunity of hearing words of rebuke from his holy grandfather.
 
Starting this week until the end of the holiday of Succot, we have the incredible good fortune of hearing the words of rebuke and other lessons which comprise Moses' final talk to the Jewish people. How much wisdom and how many lessons can be learned from this final words. In order to fully appreciate and learn from his "final address" it's worthwhile getting an overview of the major themes of Sefer Devarim - the Book of Deuteronomy. The following ideas are based on the insights of Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch (1808-88).
 
Although it's impossible to encapsulate an entire book of the Torah, for the sake of simplicity, there are three basic themes in Devarim/Deutoronomy. The first is discussed during the first three weeks of Torah readings, from Chapters 1-11. These three weekly readings consist of a review of the essential lessons of their travels. What unique events happened to us and what were they teaching all the future generations. There are some commandments mentioned and they relate primarily to our relationship with Hashem, for example, to love and to fear Him.
 
The next three and one-half weekly readings, from Chapters 12-26 are comprised of specific commands. The list is long and includes agricultural laws, establishing courts, distributing charity and helping the needy, distancing ourselves from and destroying idolatry, celebrating the yearly festivals in Jerusalem, plus many, many more. What is curious is that many laws appear for the first time. We will try to explain why so many commandments are mentioned only at the end of their forty year sojourn.
 
The final theme is reflected in the last four and one-half readings, Chapters 27-34. The verses address the rewards and punishments, the blessings and curses we will face as a nation based on our commitment, or lack thereof, to the word of Hashem.
 
Let's place ourselves in the shoes of the generation that is transitioning from the forty years of direct Divine protection and providence to the their entry into the Holy Land. What major changes were they dealing with?
 
First their awareness and clarity of Hashem's presence was going to drastically change. For those forty years, the Clouds of Glory, where Hashem's presence dwelt, traveled with them. Simply opening their eyes was all they needed to verify and strengthen their faith. Entering the land and having Hashem's presence less revealed meant that their connection to Him would no longer be experiential but would be more intellectually based. Therefore it was essential to have a clear understanding of how He led the people in the desert in order to develop the correct attitude of how to relate to Him in the future.
 
Second, they were going to be challenged to create an ideal society in a much more active way. In the wilderness all of their physical and spiritual needs were attended to. In a certain way, this transition would begin the real building of the Jewish people. Through the fulfillment of the laws of agriculture, festivals, charity, etc., we were now being called upon to create a world of "Heaven on Earth".
 
Finally, no longer would it be possible to travel as one unit as they had during the forty years. The Jewish people would be scattered throughout the land and national unity would be much more difficult. (Many of the references to the past relate to situations relevant today.) It would take serious determination to keep focused on their national calling and maintain the vision of who they were supposed to be - A Light unto the Nations.
 
These three issues are addressed in the three general sections described above. In the first section Moses reviews the essential lessons and outlooks that each Jew was supposed to develop. As we entered the land, we needed to remember and incorporate into our collective conciousness that Hashem wasn't going to leave us, Heaven forbid, He wanted us to rise to the challenge of realizing that He was still very much with us. That was only possible by reviewing the events and lessons of the past forty years.
 
The next section in the Torah outlines many commandments. These precious tools were the key to transform the Land of Israel into Hashem's palace. Bringing the Divine Presence into their lives only became a possibility through His commands as guidelines.
 
Finally, the blessings and curses taught them that they were one nation, bound together with a unique destiny. Whatever storms of change and challenge that may blow, all of them (and us) needed to remember the Jewish national identity and calling. The third section reminded them that as they entered the land and went in different directions, they were all going the same way.
 
One final note. Why were many commandments not mentioned until the end of the forty years? Based on what we said above certain commandments were only fully relevant when they entered the land. The commentators say that Moses had already taught the people but he reviewed and wrote them here to teach them that performance of many commandments have the special function of creating the utopia we are called upon to build.
 
May we feel as if Moses is talking to us and calling upon us to learn the same lessons and to rise to the challenge and vision of our great-great grandfathers and grandmothers. By connecting with their mission we become an essential link to the past and future of the Jewish people.





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