The opening words of our parashah, „Ele hadevarim – these are the words’, are like code words to never give up. Moses is at the end of his leadership and he says, „These are the words Moses spoke to the Children of Israel. ‘ What makes us forget his beginnings, when he is called to go to Pharaoh in order to free the Hebrews. At that time Moses refuses, replying, ‟I am not a man of words’ (Exodus 4:10) In other words, he was excusing himself based on his lack of skills of public speech. What a transformation between the beginning and the end! Can someone, by the power of the will, go beyond what seems
inevitable? Forcing fate?
There is a word that unites the three readings for this week, the parashah, in the Haftarah and the Meguilah of Tisha B’Av (the lamentations of Jeremiah): the word “ekha – how?”
In parashah: “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!”(Deuteronomy 1:12).
In the haftarah: “How has she become a prostitute, the faithful city, once full of justice? ” (Isaiah 1:21).
In the Lamentations of Jeremiah: “How lonely sits the city once great with people!? ” (Lamentations 1:1).
The same word in these three instances expresses the painful surprise: How? How did we get here? A terrible reprimand by three great prophets of Israel: Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah.
The rabbis noticed that the enemy, the hater of Israel, the prophet Baalam, blessed Israel three times (see Num. 24 and 25), while the prophets of Israel are so hard with their own people.
Instead, ask the rabbis, would it not have been more logical if the roles were reversed, if our prophet would bless Israel and the prophet Baalam would have cursed them? The misdrash answers: if Baalam would have cursed Israel, nobody would have paid attention to his words because it would be expected that an enemy would curse Israel. If Moses would have praised Israel, the world would have said that that was normal due to the fact that he was their prophet and therefore he was exaggerating.
Rabbi Pinchas Peli, in his commentary to this parashah, relates the joke about a Jew who, accused of reading an anti-Semite newspaper, answers: “What can I do? When I read the Jewish press I feel stunned and depressed by the
catalog of accusations, lack of rights and threats against us. But when I read the anti-Semitic press I cheer up reading about the Jews being in control of the banks.”
But perhaps, at the bottom, the mark of true prophets, is that they do not flatter. They stand up and speak about the failures, weaknesses, shortcomings, nothing to hide or to disguise. They are often very hard in their accusations. But what lies behind this harshness is love and tenderness for their people. The prophets are demanding to the limit, but they are totally devoted and loving. These are the real ingredients to educate, grow and advance Israel. Their words are a pledge of the future (cf. Isaiah 41: 8-16).
Shabbat Shalom, and a good vacation if you are leaving.
Before leaving on vacation, please, remember to send out your commitment for this coming year, which is so necessary to the survival of our community.
If you are stayng in Mechanicsburg, think that you might be the tenth to complete the Minyan!