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Parshat D'varim

And so begins The Long Goodbye.

D'varim (Deuteronomy), the final book of the Torah, opens just 37 days before the death of Moses at 120-years-old. Poised with the people on "the other side of the Jordan", Moses has a final chance to address, advise, admonish, and inspire the next generation of Israelites, those who will be blessed enough to enter The Promised Land, fulfilling the destiny of Jewish peoplehood.

"It was in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses addressed the Israelites in accordance with the instructions that the Lord had given him for them..."

The book of D'varim contains about 100 laws, 70 of which Moses has not mentioned to his flock earlier because they relate directly to how the Israelites should live in the Land. This first chapter of D'varim is more or less a detailed recap of the Israelite's circuitous 40-year journey from Egypt through the wilderness--made all the more difficult for Moses when his difficult charges overwhelm him, and not just when they're breaking G-d's laws. "'How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!'," he recalls himself despairing, until his father-in-law Yitro suggests a practical solution, the genesis of a balanced judicial system that remains in place today. (Though it is doubtful there were Biblical confirmation hearings.) "'So I took your tribal leaders, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you...I charged your magistrates at the time as follows, 'Hear out your fellow men, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgement: hear out low and high alike. Fear no man, for judgements is G-d's.'" Moses revisits the story of the 12 men he sent ahead to scout out the Israelite's new home: ("You sulked in your tents and said, 'We saw there a people stronger and taller than we'...I said to you...'Have no dread or fear of them. None other than the Lord your G-d, who goes before you, will fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes...'"). He details the people's crossing through enemy lands,their defeats, and their victories--everything that has brought Moses and the Israelites to this very moment at this very place.

And yet.

Moses already knows that he, along with all of those who were slaves in Egypt (with the very notable exceptions of the brave spies Caleb and Joshua) will die in the desert. The glory that lies ahead in Israel is not for them. Moses, whom some commentators note seems more subdued in D'varim (perhaps exhausted or simply facing his own mortality), nevertheless appears completely focused on his end game: ensuring that the gathered people not only hear but actually internalize his wise words--and, far more importantly, heed Him.

Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, begins when Shabbat ends tomorrow night. It is an annual fast day, a time of mourning that marks the many disasters that have taken place on this date throughout Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

And yet.

The people of Israel live. Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom!