There is something very special about Sefer Devarim, the Book of Deuteronomy. Unlike the other books of the Chumash, where we find Gcd speaking to - and through - Moshe to the Jewish People, this book is Moshe’s last will and testament. It is Moshe unchained – Moshe in his own words, his own living legacy; a series of orations delivered over the final weeks of his life to that eager and impatient generation, standing as they were on the east bank of the Jordan, chafing at the bit to begin the conquest of the Land of Israel.
If you listen closely during the Torah readings, this difference in voice can be heard in the ta’amei hamikrah, the cantillations used to sing the Torah verses in public. Devarim just plain sounds different. The difference is nuanced, but it’s there.
And just as the rest of the Torah was written not for only for the generation that received it, but for all generations, in all times and in places, so, too, is Moshe’s last will and testament directed not only at the specific generation of Joshua. Its wisdom is transcendent, independent of time and place; and that’s why Gcd wanted Moshe’s words appended to His own.
Moshe’s message in this week’s parasha is as timely today, this week, right now, as it was 3286 years ago when he first spoke it. The words jump off the page and grab you by the lapels. He’s so on the ball you’d think Moshe had a current subscription to the New York Times.
Moshe’s message resonates with us precisely because of troubled times in which we live.
In Europe, we are witnessing an emboldened Jew-hatred at levels not seen since the 1930s. England, where Jew-hatred used to be more subtle and refined, now openly boasts “Israel-Free” cities. And here in America, Judaism is under a threat of a different kind: we are euthanizing ourselves, committing spiritual Hari Kiri. It seems that the good-hearted American Jew will champion every cause under the sun - every cause, that is, except his own survival and self-interest.
And then we have the situation in Israel. For the last two months, the entire Jewish world was united – first in worry and angst, then grief and anguish – over the abduction and murder of our three teenaged sons and the Gaza War against Hamas which followed. But all of that was against a generalized backdrop of worry about Israel.
Israel, the first sprouting of the promised Messianic redemption, is under siege in international forums around the world. Israel has been in a state of war since 1948. The Home Front Defense Ministry estimates that Israel has some 200,000 rockets and missiles of various ranges and capabilities aimed at her.
Then we have the Syrian crisis. The bloody and intractable Syrian civil war threatens to spill over to the Golan at any time.
And ISIL. Having conquered large swaths of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State threatens the stability of the Kingdom of Jordan on our eastern border.
And then there is the over-arching existential threat of a nuclear Iran.
Many of us are understandably scared and worried about these developments.
To us, Moshe conveys a message of hope and encouragement in this week’s Torah portion:
Vchi Tomar Bilvavcha/Perhaps you will say in your heart: my enemies are more numerous than me; I’m overwhelmed and worried about how we will survive their attacks. Hamas. Hezbollah. Islamic Jihad. Fatah. ISIL. Iran.
Do not fear them! (Moshe says.) Remember what Hashem did to the most powerful military machine on the planet, to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt. In the same way that Hashem miraculously delivered you from their hand; in the same way that Hashem miraculously delivered you from Og king of Bashan, and Sichon king of the Amorites; in the same way that Hashem miraculously delivered you from the Syrian Greeks; in the same way that Hashem fought for you in 1948 and in 1967, and again in 1973, against all odds and against all the prevailing wisdom; so shall Hashem your Gcd do to the people whom you now fear.
Don’t cower before them; for Hashem our Gcd is in our midst, the Great and Awesome Gcd.
OK, so maybe I paraphrased a little…
But the intent of Moshe’s words are clear. Don’t fear; to the contrary, take heart. Don’t be overwhelmed by the troubling news, for there is also much good news, and much to be grateful for.
I was blown away this week by news of a social media campaign organized by StandWithUs.com. Individuals from all over the world have taken to writing the words I Stand With Israel on the palm of their hand and then taking a picture of their hand together with the passport of their respective country. To date, thousands of people from 136 countries Stand with Israel. (There are only 196 countries on the planet.) Even people in Pakistan and Iran sent in pictures. May Gcd bless them and strengthen them.
Wow. So don’t be afraid, take heart. Yihyeh tov – it’s going to be OK, it’s all going to work out.
Like the famous teaching of Rebbi Nachman of Breslov: Kol HaOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar Meod, VehaIkar Lo Lefached Klal. "The whole world is a narrow bridge; but the main thing is not to fear." We find ourselves walking a dangerous rope bridge over a gaping canyon, but the trick is not to look down. Keep moving forward and look ahead; Gcd is saying: ‘keep your eyes glued on me’ - look up to the mountain tops – as the verse in Psalms 121 famously says, whence our help will come.
The seven weeks between Tisha B’Av & Rosh Hashanah are called the shiva d’nechemta – the seven weeks of consolation. The consoling, inspiring message of this week’s parsha to us is: Don’t despair! Keep your chin up! Blessing and salvation beyond our wildest imaginings are in the offing.
May we all here today merit to see the day when Gcd’s supernal light floods the world with radiant goodness, with abundant love and with the blessings of peace.