Parsha Devarim: We Still Need Corrective Vision

Visionary_Ezekiel_TempleThis week we read parsha Devarim (D’varim, or Debarim) which means “words.”  Parsha Devarim consists of Deuteronomy 1:1–3:22.  You can read a brief summary here.

Deuteronomy 1:1

1 These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the desert, in the Arava, opposite Suf, between Paran, and Tofel, and Lavan, and Hazerot, and Di-Zahav 

From Chabad: According to the Sifri, the numerous place names listed here are not landmarks indicating where Moses spoke these words — indeed, some of these places do not even exist as geographical locations. Rather, these are words of rebuke by Moses to the people of Israel. Instead of mentioning their sins outright, he alluded to them with these place names:

    • “In the desert” — the time they complained “if only we would have died in the desert” (Exodus 17:3)
    • “In the Arava (Plain)” — their worship of Baal Peor in the Plains of Moab (Numbers 25)
    • “Opposite Suf” — the trouble they made at the shores of Yam Suf, the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:11and Rashi on Exodus 15:22)
    • “Paran” — the sin of the Spies, who were dispatched from Paran (as recounted in Numbers 13 and later in our own Parshah)
    • “Tofel” and “Lavan” (meaning “libel” and “white”) — their libeling the white manna (Numbers 21:5)
    • “Hazerot” — where Korach’s mutiny against Moses took place.
    • “Di Zahav” (literally “too much gold”) — the sin of the Golden Calf.

~ (Sifri; Rashi; et al)

*Sifri (Sifre,Sifre debe Rab or Sifre Rabbah) refers to either of two works of Midrash halakhah, or classical Jewish legal Biblical exegesis, based on the biblical books of Bamidbar (Numbers) and Devarim (Deuteronomy).

This Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Chazon “Shabbat of Vision” as it is the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av (9th of Av which is a day of great calamities in Jewish history.)  Numerous tragedies occurred on or directly around this date, but perhaps of most significance was the destruction of the First and Second Temples which occurred about 655 years apart from each other.  Because of this, we fast on Tisha B’Av and make the day a day of solemnity and mourning.  The name of this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon, is in reference to the first word of the haftarah, which is Isaiah 1:1–27.

Isaiah 1:1

The vision (chazon) concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

I find it fitting to always read Parsha Devarim on Shabbat Chazon as Devarim also creates a vision of who we were, who we are, and who we are to become.

In our own way we too have transgressed just as our ancestors did, and we too must make our own 42 stage journey in life.  If we keep our eyes on the prize we just might reach our destination.  This destination is our destiny and it requires vision… as well as work and faith.

Apparently we have not merited the promised destiny quite yet.  Probably because we are still transgressing in our own deserts, worshipping our own false gods, and lacking faith in our own way. Undoubtedly we each speak our own evils as well as allow our inflated egos to act in defiance to God’s will at times.  Also, we must be careful to not succumb to our fears and build our own Golden Calf out of desperation.

Were we to act as God has asked of us, the world would be a very different place.  Like a parent with a defiant child, He patiently awaits our compliance… and in the meantime we suffer the consequences for our actions.  This idea was expressed by chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev with this allegory:

A father once prepared a beautiful suit of clothes for his son. But the child neglected his father’s gift, and soon the suit was in tatters. The father gave the child a second suit of clothes; this one, too, was ruined by the child’s carelessness. So, the father made a third suit. This time, however, he withholds it from his son. Every once in a while, on special and opportune times, he shows the suit to the child, explaining that when the child learns to appreciate and properly care for the gift, it will be given to him. This induces the child to improve his behavior, until it gradually becomes second nature to him—at which time he will be worthy of his father’s gift.

God has given us two Temples, and now we must prove we are worthy of the Third.  May God give us the strength, will, and ability to act with such magnificent faith and commitment that we actually are granted the destiny we have envisioned from generation to generation.

Shabbat Shalom.





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  1. Thank you for the memories – I went to Camp Ramah about 35 years ago and the songs for Friday Night are about all I reemmber. Where can I buy the book that you read/sang the birchat hamazon from?

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