We’re starting to read from the final book of the Chumash: Devarim. The words of God are repeated for us again, summarised and the eternal truths spelled out in a fashion that we’re meant to learn from. This is Torah stripped down to the essentials, what we’re meant to know and do: the core of our faith. Moshe stands up to start speaking; according to tradition, he speaks for 36 days in total.
The journey from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea takes 11 days normally. Of course, it took our people 40 years. Verses 27 and 32 of Deuteronomy 1 stand out as unsettling: we didn’t believe God. Why? Because according to verse 27, we thought to ourselves: ‘God hates us’.
Nowhere in the Torah do we ever read that God hates us! It is amazing how often people conclude that God feels anything other than love towards them, bearing in mind that He has always pursued us even when we have run contrary to Him, eventually sending the ultimate expression of His love, Yeshua Mashikainu, as a sacrifice of complete atonement. Yet the enemy of our souls has determined that we should not trust in, believe in or have confidence in God at all. Even better from his perspective if we end up convinced that God must hate us. Despite all the bad things that happen to us, it is important we do understand that He is in control and that as Kefa concluded (1 Peter 5:7) ‘He cares for you’.
Ironically, one of the ways that we know that His love is real and that He is trustworthy and faithful is drawn from the Haftorah portion today. Isaiah paints a grim picture of what would happen in the future, if no repentance was brought. Isaiah was a man who was ‘blessed’ with seeing the future inevitable consequences of the actions of Israel. We see the raw consequences unfold before our eyes, no punches are pulled and there is no deception in sight. God tells us as it is warts and all, and then ensures that our dirty laundry can be washed forever in public down the ages by having the words written down for posterity. The covenant was clear; as Israel, we failed to meet God’s standards of righteousness and we failed to be the light to the nations that we were, and are, meant to be. God’s love and discipline in our failing was equally clear; this was no sign of hatred but covenantal correction. Severe? Yes, absolutely, but dare we say we weren’t warned? And so, as Isaiah said, the Temple would be destroyed, all of which sad ‘prediction’ brings us to Tisha b’Av.
Traditionally we read from Megilat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations at this time. It makes sober reading too. But notice that even here the lament turns to a cry for salvation and deliverance too, ending with the words we all know so well: ‘Hashivenu Adonai eleycha v’nashuvah’ – cause us to turn and return to you. In other words, we have no power in ourselves to repent; we can only do so if He makes a way, does it all. According to the tradition, it was Tisha B’Av on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, sending our people into exile and completely changing the fabric of Jewish life. It was also the day, according to Taanit 29a that the Israelites refused to enter the Land, an action that, as Moshe recalls in this portion, meant 40 years of wandering in the desert.
Some other events that have occurred on Tisha B’Av:
- First Crusade, 1095
- Expulsion of Jews from England 1290
- Spanish Inquisition 1492
- WW1 starts 1914
- The start of the mass deportation of Jews from Warsaw ghetto 1942
Fundamentally it has been our inability to obey God and keep the commandments that has brought destruction: lack of faith and trusting. But read what Isaiah said in chapter 61:1-10. In the midst of national suffering He will bring deliverance and salvation. God will make a way. Where we have failed to walk righteously before God, He will ensure that we do! And the nations will see it too!
Hashivenu Adonai elecha v’nashuvah. Amen.