Devarim & Hazon – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This Shabbat is Shabbat Hazon, the “Sabbath of Vision”, which immediately precedes the Ninth of Av, a day for recollection and mourning. We read the opening Sedra of the last book of the Torah, “Devarim”. Traditionally the recitation uses the tunes of “Eichah” to symbolise how we have strayed.

The whole fifth book of the Torah is often described as a second recitation of the law. It is the gift of Moses to the people. None of the adults, excepting Joshua and Caleb, had been at Sinai and experienced the going out of Egypt.

We are often called “the People of the Book” so what makes Devarim so special? The conventional view is that it is the farewell speech from Moses to the people, recalling history, mistakes and the covenant. It ends with a blessing.

The symbolism of the title of this Sedra, “Devarim” (translated as “words”) is easily overlooked.

The Sedra starts with the words

אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר דִּבֶּ֤ר משֶׁה֙ אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל
These are the words (“devarim”) which Moses spoke to all Israel

But also remember:

The Ten Commandments are the “Aseret Dibrot”, ten “words” Both have the same root, daled, vav, resh = word

We are all human and, in recollecting events, it is always a question of our own memories and experiences: we see things through our own version of those events. Most of us have lost a document on a computer and have had to go back and try to rewrite our words.

In today’s world it has become fashionable to ask or even demand that history be re written or re interpreted? Do we change the words?

Words are very much a part of our being Jews. We wear them inside Tefillin, we put them on our door posts in a Mezuzah and we rejoice in them in the Torah. We recite them in our prayers. We do not use icons or statues.

What kept us alive though the terrible events that Tish B’Av recalls, and our subsequent experiences were the words that we carried with us. They are our unique link with God. Whatever our level of knowledge or observance, to hear or recite the words of the Kaddish or the Shema is to understand that special bond.

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