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Shabbat Parashat Devarim 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Three Related Eichas

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 473-4

Shabbat Chazon brings a palpable sadness which finds expression in the haftara: “Your Land is desolate, your cities burnt by fire, from your land strangers eat opposite you, and there is desolation, like that which was overturned by strangers” (Yeshaya 1:7). While there is no explicit parallel in the parasha, Chazal saw an implied one. Moshe criticized the people of his time with the famous word eicha (how?), which we also find in the haftara and, of course, on Tisha B’av: Moshe complained: “How can I bear alone your burden, your load, and your quarrels” (Devarim 1:12). Eicha Rabba (1:1) says that this is a sign of three stages of eicha pronouncements, like a noblewoman who had three attendants who saw her at different stages: one when she was in a calm state (corresponding to Moshe), one while in a dangerous state (Yeshaya), and one in utter disgrace (Yirmiya).

What the Rabbis are teaching us is that there is a causal connection between these three statements and periods. Yirmiya asked in deep pain how the tragedy of destruction could have occurred. The answer was from the prophet Yeshaya, who preceded him: how could the people of the formerly trustworthy city be so treacherous and unfaithful (Yeshaya 1:21). The question of how that could be the moral state finds answer from the time of Moshe, who had such trouble dealing with the bickering and arguments from his constituents.

Indeed we have a principle regarding Jewish history that the development of historical processes is not by chance but based on internal connections. From where did the roots of destruction emanate? Hashem invited the nation to receive the Land that he chose for them (Devarim 1:8). It could have been much easier. Instead, their actions caused them to wander in the desert for 40 years and then not complete the task of expelling the nations and taking full control of the Land throughout the time of the Judges and even the early Kings. The Torah explains: “You did not desire to go up [to the Land], and you disobeyed the word of Hashem” (ibid. 26). Rashi explains that there was nothing stopping them, and they could have taken the Land without battle or weapons if not for the sin of the spies.

But even the spies are just a link in the chain. It began with what Moshe complained of – the people’s lack of trust in their Torah leadership. Even when the problems emanated from the people, they blamed their leadership. They saw the Torah and its espousers as their problem. This caused the moral deterioration that Yeshaya spoke of, which lead to the destruction that Yirmiya witnessed. First, the people were internally destroyed; then, the kingdom fell.

The way to improve things follows the same line. First there must be trust in the Torah and its spokesmen. This is as our haftara prescribes: “I will return your judges as they were originally and your advisors as from the outset; then you will be called the city of justice, the trustworthy town” (Yeshaya 1:26).


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