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Torah Attitude: Parashas Devarim/Shabbos Chazon, Do we really want Mashiach to come?
The coming Shabbos is known as Shabbos Chazon. Moses reviews the various incidents that the Jewish people went through during their sojourn in the wilderness and rebukes them for all their shortcomings and transgressions. The Hebrew word that Moses used when he said "how can I carry alone" is "eichah". "How did all of this come about?" Right from our beginning as a nation, we had shortcomings that slowly developed and grew, like a seed or a root below the surface that slowly but surely grows and brings forth its toxic resins. How can a person mourn a close relative he never met? We are similar to the parable of the wife of the farmer. We find ourselves as part of the Jewish people at large facing many physical dangers and perils. From a spiritual point of view, our situation is no better with problems of assimilation and intermarriage. We mourn during this three weeks' period and throughout the Nine Days up to Tisha B'Av.
We are in the middle of the three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the long and bitter exile that we still suffer from. The coming Shabbos is known as Shabbos Chazon. This is due to the special Haftorah that we read on this Shabbos before the Fast of Tisha B'Av that starts with the words: "Chazon Yishayahoo" (Isaiah).
Every year we read Parashas Devarim on Shabbos Chazon. In the beginning of this Parasha, Moses reviews the various incidents that the Jewish people went through during their sojourn in the wilderness and rebukes them for all their shortcomings and transgressions. Some of the incidents Moses refers to only with a hint. Other incidents he discusses in more detail. He further relates to the Jewish people how difficult it has been to be their leader and says (Devarim 1:9-13): "And I said to you … I cannot carry you alone. HASHEM your G'd has multiplied you, and you are today like the stars of the heavens … How can I carry alone your bother, your disputes and your quarrels? Bring yourselves men, scholars who are wise and understanding … and I will appoint them over you."
The Hebrew word that Moses used when he said "how can I carry alone" is "eichah". As a matter of fact, it is the custom to read this verse with the same tune that we read the Book of Eichah (Lamentations) on Tisha B'Av which starts with the word "eichah". The Midrash (Eichah 1:1) points out that three prophets used the word "eichah" in their prophecies. The first one was Moses, in this week's parasha. The second one was Isaiah (1:21) who exclaimed: "How has she turned into a harlot, the faithful city? She was full of justice, and righteousness used to lodge by her, and now murderers". This is read in this week's Haftorah. And the third prophet was Jeremiah who used this expression as the opening line of the Book of Eichah (Lamentations) (1:1-2): "How does she sit in solitude? The city that was full of people has become comparable to a widow ... She weeps constantly at night … She has no comforter from all her loved ones. " The Midrash says this is like a noble woman who had three close friends. One saw her in her time of ease, the second one saw her in her time of infidelity, and the last one saw her in her time of disgrace. It is obvious that this Midrash wants to teach us a message. However, it needs clarification to understand what the Midrash seeks to learn from these three expressions of eichah.
How come about?
When we read about the destruction of the Temple, and hear about all the calamities that have befallen the Jewish people throughout our exile, we join Jeremiah and ask "how did all of this come about?" But if we analyze the three instances that these great prophets expressed with eichah, we will find that things started to go wrong already at the time of our sojourn in the wilderness. There the Jewish people were provided with all their needs, both physically and spiritually, and were totally at ease. As G'd says (Shemos 19:4): "And I carried you on the wings of eagles". The manna fell down from heaven, and water was provided by the well of Miriam. In addition, they were protected against their enemies and dangers by the clouds of glory. But already then Moses saw the seeds of trouble in the quarrels and disputes that took place among them.
After the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, the seeds of trouble developed further. Eventually, they fell from their high spiritual level to the extent that Jeremiah found it appropriate to describe them and the City of Jerusalem as a harlot unfaithful to her husband. This might be what the Midrash wants us to understand and internalize. Right from our beginning as a nation, we had shortcomings that slowly developed and grew. As it says (Devarim 29:17): "Possibly there is among you a root that flourishes with gall and wormwood" Generally, problems do not occur overnight. Rather, they start with very subtle, sometimes hidden beginnings, as a seed or a root below the surface that slowly but surely grows and brings forth its toxic resins that can poison the environment around it. The sooner we manage to recognize such a root and nib it in its bud, the better we have a chance to avoid major problems that would otherwise develop. Jeremiah bewails that we did not deal with our problems and G'd punished us and destroyed the First Temple. After just seventy years in exile, the Jewish people merited to return to the land of their forefathers and build the Second Temple. However, this Temple also got destroyed and again we had to leave our homeland and go into exile, and for this we are mourning until today.
Never met close relative
But how can we be expected to mourn something that we never experienced? This is comparable to a person who lost a close relative he never met. Even if the mourner goes through the shiva and performs the subsequent laws and customs, is it really possible to mourn and miss someone one never knew?
Farmer's wife parable
If we are honest with ourselves, we may find that we are similar to the wife of the farmer in the following parable. This farmer was a simple but G'd-fearing person, living on the plains of Russia. One day he came home to his wife and told her that the Rabbi had said that soon Mashiach would come and take them all to the land of Israel. "This is terrible", said his wife. "Don't we have enough problems already? Who is going to tend to our chickens and look after our geese? You better go straight back to the Rabbi and tell him that we can have no part in this. It will be a real disaster." When the husband returned to the Rabbi with his wife's message, he told the farmer to go home and tell his wife that any day the Cossacks could come and plunder their farm and steal all their fowl. Obviously, they would be much better off when Mashiach would come and take them to the land of Israel. After the farmer related the Rabbi's response to his wife, she contemplated what he had said and understood that he had a valid point. Suddenly, she exclaimed, "I have a perfect solution. Let Mashiach come and take the Cossacks to the land of Israel and everything will be fine." As we hear this parable, we smile knowingly. But if we are honest with ourselves we are probably not that different than this good wife. Are we totally comfortable and at ease with the thought that when Mashiach comes we will be expected to leave the comfort of our home, and give up the security of our business? Are we really ready to face a somewhat unknown future under Mashiach in the land of Israel?
Physical dangers and perils
However, this approach is very narrow-minded and self-centered. If we look around at the broader picture, we find ourselves, as part of the Jewish people at large, facing many physical dangers and perils. The political analysts view the threat from Iran as very real and dangerous, not only for our brothers and sisters in the land of Israel, but for the security of everyone worldwide. The growing Muslim population all over Europe has created a situation that is a major threat and danger for the Jewish communities in all European countries. Even for those of us who live in North America, we are all aware that there are cells of terrorists who are only waiting for opportunities to strike.
Assimilation and intermarriage
From a spiritual point of view, our situation is no better. Hundreds of missionary groups use every opportunity to ensnare those that are weak in their faith, and bring them to convert to the Christian faith. Thousands of Jewish youths have fallen prey to the various cults of the Far East and elsewhere. Many communities report an alarming rise in assimilation in general, and in intermarriage in particular. We must realize and remember that all this is a direct result of our prolonged exile that started with the destruction of the Second Temple.
This is what we mourn during this three weeks' period, and this is why we refrain from eating meat and drinking wine throughout the Nine Days up to Tisha B'Av. In this way, we express our distress over the difficult situation. And that is why we fast on Tisha B'Av and read Eichah and the lamentations. We sit like mourners on the ground, and bemoan the perils we face right now. We must rise above our own personal situation and cry out together to our All Merciful G'd, "Please, as You have taken us out from our earlier exiles, send Mashiach, and let us return to our Homeland in safety and peace, that we can build the Temple in Jerusalem and serve You with every aspect of our lives."
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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