August 10, 2019 -Tishah b’Av
This coming Sabbath we begin our yearly reading of the Torah’s fifth book, Sefer Dvarim, known in English as the “The Book of Deuteronomy” and we also mark the summer fast of Tisha b’Av (9th day of the Biblical Month of Av). The Book of Deuteronomy acts as a summation of the other four books. There is even scholarly debate as to this book’s role in the Torah. Biblical scholars have long debated if this fifth book is an add-on to the other four books or a part of the original text?
Tishah b’Av is not a Biblical holiday but a day created by the rabbis. It is not easy to find a connection between Parashat Dvarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22) and Tisha b’Av. Yet a closer examination may show us that on a meta-level the two are more closely related than we might first imagine.
Using the Gregorian calendar, Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of both the First Temple in 586 BCE and of the Second Temple in the year 70CE. Some believe that Spanish Inquisition and/or the expulsion of the Spanish Jewish community occurred on the 9th of Av. Reading the rabbinic commentaries about the day, two themes emerge, 1) that national danger comes from disunity and 2) over politicization and blaming others for both personal and collective errors is counter productive.
The day serves to remind us that when a society begins to throw false claims against its own people, when collaboration turns internal hostility then tragedy is bound to follow. The rabbinic commentaries note that we lost the war with ancient Rome not due to Rome’s power but to internal bickering.
The 9th of Av demands self-analysis. This national reckoning does not mean that we blame to victim, but rather we analyze ourselves. We might say that just as Rosh Ha’Shanah demands that we perform a Cheshbon ha’Nefesh, a personal inventory of our strengths and weaknesses so the 9th of Av does the same but on a national rather than personal level.
Parashat Dvarim is all about the importance of words. The section begins with the phrase: “Eleh ha’dvarim asher Mosheh dibber el col Yisrael…/these are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel (1:1). Its premise is simple: words do matter; what we say has consequences. When we use words to hurt others we too become the victims of what we say.
The careful reader will ask him/herself why the word “col” (all of) is needed. Certainly the phrase makes equal sense without that word. The rabbinic answer is that “col/each and every one” refers to the body of individuals whom come together as a collective. In others words, we can become a society of and political rancor or we can focus on using our words to create a sense of comradeship and national purpose. Are the fast of Tisha b’Av and the week’s parashah teaching us that societies dominated by a sense of political bickering headed towards a national calamity? When we create a resistance, when we hurl epitaphs at other than tragedy is bound to follow.
The Fifth book of Hebrew is called Dvarim/words that result in actions. How we choose our words does matter. Both the Bible’s firth book and this national day of mourning speak not only about the past but also about our present. What do you think?
Two articles that you may want to read:
My monthly Jewish philosophy article
My article about the El Paso Massacre
Youtubes for the week
Due to Tishah b’Av there is no music this week
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