Sefer Devarim is Moshe’s final address to the Bnei Yisrael. The entire sefer contains the information Moshe felt was most vital to give over before he died; by viewing it as such, we can gain great insights into Moshe’s thought process as the Bnei Yisrael were about to enter Eretz Yisrael. Parshas Devarim specifically contains a lot of mussar given by Moshe to the nation.
At the beginning of Shlishi, Moshe is telling over the story of when Bnei Yisrael wanted to send the spies into Eretz Yisrael. The first pasuk of Shlishi says, “וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי כֻּלְּכֶם” “And all of you approached me” (Devarim 1:22). Rashi explains that Moshe was saying this as a rebuke; they came so quickly and so forcefully to Moshe, that no one showed any respect for each other. The younger people pushed away the older people, and the older people did not show any respect to the leaders of the nation. This, Rashi explains, is a contrast to how they acted at Har Sinai, where everyone treated each other with the proper respect. (Rashi learns this out from the pasuk in 5:20 that discusses the giving of the Torah.)
The simple explanation is that Moshe was rebuking Bnei Yisrael by telling them how well they had acted earlier and how had badly they acted under similar circumstances later on. Asks the Kli Yakar, if Moshe is rebuking Bnei Yisrael, why does he need to mention Har Sinai? Why can’t he just say that they acted poorly by the Meraglim?
He explains that this is really a lot worse than what Rashi originally said. When Moshe saw how the Bnei Yisrael respected each other at Har Sinai, he assumed it was as he saw it, that they all respected each other. However, now that he saw how they acted by the Meraglim, pushing and shoving with no regard for one another, he understood that the ‘respect’ they showed each other at Har Sinai was not respect either.
When the nation pushed each other by the Meraglim, they were motivated by the expectation of receiving land and wealth and other physical pleasures. They couldn’t get to the front of the line fast enough! (Remember, at this point, the whole nation was expecting to go into Eretz Yisrael right away. They didn’t think the spies would come back with a bad report and they would end up spending another 38 years in the desert.) But by Har Sinai, when it came to receiving the Torah, the ultimate spiritual reward, all of a sudden they couldn’t wait to give someone else the opportunity to go first, passing it off as ‘politeness’. The younger people allowed the older people to go in front by Har Sinai because they didn’t see any value in Torah for them. “The elders will appreciate Torah because older people appreciate wisdom. We are young, we need land and wealth; we want the opportunity to build the new world, which the elders will not be a part of for too long. So we need these physical things more.” Therefore, they pushed in front when it came to going into Eretz Yisrael.
It is this middah that led to the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. When it comes to Torah, everyone is ready to honor the other. Sometimes it is legitimate, but often it is because we just want to pass on the burden of Torah on to someone else. But when it comes to making money, we don’t generally try to respect other people’s feelings.
The first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because we committed sins against Hashem, the second Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because we sinned against each other. Both of these aspects are on display in this story in Devarim. When the younger people allowed the older people first access to the Torah, they were sinning against Hashem by showing that they did not see any benefit in receiving the Torah; they felt that it was unimportant and irrelevant. When they pushed the elders away, (and when the elders also didn’t show respect to the nation’s leaders,) they showed that they cared more about their own personal gains than trying to help out their friend and neighbor.
Even though we don’t commemorate it until Sunday, this Shabbos is Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Batei Mikdash. The saddest day of the year. Tisha B’Av is not even about doing teshuva (though it is a good time for it), it’s simply about remembering the Beis Hamikdash and trying to comprehend what we have lost.
Parshas Devarim always falls out the week before Tisha B’Av. By focusing on this lesson from the parsha, we can see what we need to work on. We must respect our friends and neighbors, by putting their physical and spiritual needs before our own, and repair our relationship with Hashem, by accepting upon ourselves the ‘burden’ of the pleasures of the Torah, and respecting each and every Jew. Every Jew is extremely important to Hashem, therefore, all of their needs, both physical and spiritual, should be our top priority.
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