ELEVEN DAYS, FORTY YEARS – D’varim – Deut. 1-3:22, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week we start reading the Book of Deuteronomy, known in Hebrew as simply D’varim – words. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel,” it begins, and then lists locations where the leader delivered his discourses. Three long lectures plus a farewell song. What does he do? Reviews their travels; Rebukes them for their misconduct; and Reminds them of the Law – the Torah – that they accepted from on High.
Opening with a geographical comment, our Sedrah notes that the distance from Mount Sinai (here called Horeb) via Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea amounts to eleven days travel. Modern camel riders confirm that as accurate. Rashi’s commentary, however, calculates that during the Exodus the people made that trip in just three days. They spent a total of 39 days from the 20th of Iyyar when they left Horeb, to the 29th of Sivan when they sent out the spies from Kadesh Barnea; but they spent 30 of those days at Kivrot haTaavah eating meat, and 7 more days to heal Miriam from her contamination. So it was just the third day of actual travel that brought them to Kadesh Barnea. The reason for this speed, says Rashi, is that the Almighty wanted to bring them to the Promised Land as soon as possible.
So what took 40 years? That’s what Moses will tell us with the 3 R’s of his discourses – Review, Rebuke, Reminder.
Accompanying this beginning of Moses’ message we will read Isaiah’s vision – Khazon Y’shayahu — in our Haftorah. This, the last of three Haftorahs of Rebuke, immediately precedes the fast of Tisha B’Av which this year coincides with our Shabat so is postponed a day, to be observed on Saturday night and Sunday, in mourning for the Holy Temple which was destroyed on that day – twice, in fact – once by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and once by the Romans in 70 CE. Isaiah proclaims his vision in dramatic terms, comparing the rulers of his day to those of Sodom and Gemorrah, the evil cities destroyed in the Book of Genesis. The Hertz commentary describes Isaiah as “an implacable enemy of shallow ‘patriots’ and opportunist politicians.” And our tradition names this Sabbath after the opening word of this Haftorah: Shabat Khazon – “the Sabbath of Vision.” Isaiah’s vision picks up on Moses’ Review, Rebuke and Reminders. We need both.
In keeping with the mournful season, the bulk of this Haftorah is traditionally chanted in the melody of Lamentations – Eykha. But not the last line, where Isaiah declares: “Zion will be redeemed with justice, and those who return to her with righteousness.” We end with the positive, cheerful sound of the Shabat Haftorah, the melody many of us learned for our own Bar Mitzvah service. We have confidence in future opportunities, and with G-d’s help we will survive, just as Moses tells Joshua in our Sedrah: “Do not be afraid of [these enemies] because G-d is fighting for you.” Wars happen, and appeasement will not prevent them. One lesson from the Sabbath of Vision is Be Prepared. As individuals, as communities and hopefully as nations, let’s take it to heart.
No matter how dreadful the dangers we face, we have faith and we have weapons. What are they? Courage and confidence, yes. Plus justice and righteousness. An unbeatable combination.
On to victory. And then to peace. Ken y’hee ratzon.