Divrei Torah

PARSHAS DEVARIM 5778

In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Moshe speaks about judging court cases for the Jewish people and handling the daily load that comes with them. Moshe says, “I am not able to bear you alone . . . How can I carry alone your burdens, your loads and disputes?”

The Jewish nation is G-d’s chosen people and special people. There is no people as wonderful as the Jewish people. Along with that, the Jewish people – just as all other people – have daily lives and struggles. The Jewish people are also a difficult people. Since time immemorial, we have a tendency to fight against each other, think I am always right, my arguing opponent is obviously wrong and I know what is best for you and everybody else. You can’t tell me what to do. I’ll tell you what you should do.

Moshe – the greatest person who ever lived – had difficulty leading the Jewish people. King Solomon – the wisest of all men - reiterated Moshe’s statement regarding the difficulty in judging and leading the Jewish people. There are times when it is good to be stubborn and difficult. When the Jewish people have been oppressed by various enemies, the Jewish people stuck to their Judaism and eventually came out on top – no matter how hard it was to not give in to the enemies. On the other hand, we have also seen the downside to be a difficult and argumentative people.

This coming Motzaei Shabbos and Sunday is the fast of Tisha B’Av, when we commemorate the destruction of both Batei Mikdash and several other tragedies that occurred on or around this time of the year. The Talmud teaches us that the 2nd Bais Hamikdash was destroyed due to baseless hatred between people and relates a story to that effect. The Talmudic commentators explain that the story related in the Talmud is only one example of those times. That baseless hatred was rampant among the Jewish people.

At the time of the destruction of the 2nd Bais Hamikdash, there were four Jewish groups operating inside Jerusalem. The Perushim, the Tzadokim, the Kanaim and the Sicarii. The Perushim were the religious Jews – led by the Sanhedrin. The Tzedokim were assimilated Jews who did not follow the rulings of the Rabbis. The Kanaim were the Zealots and the Sicarii were the mafia – roaming gangs of Jews looking for fights.

The Perushim did not favor Roman rule but they opposed fighting the Romans. They felt that the Romans would eventually go away and the Jews would still be standing. The Tzedokim wanted to live like the Romans and wanted peace with Rome at any price. The Zealots wanted to fight Rome and establish Jewish independence at any cost. The Sicarii were opposed to any form of government – Jewish or Roman. They wanted to destroy all government and would do so by any means – even murder.

The Perushim had the right idea – live under Roman rule and eventually the Romans will disappear. However, the other groups would not agree with that approach. These groups fought with each other, while the Romans kept advancing towards Jerusalem. The groups finally united – but only after the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem. By then, it was too late.

Unfortunately, this willingness and often eagerness for conflict has remained throughout our long exile until today.

Sometimes, fighting and stubbornness is necessary to uphold Jewish tradition. Unfortunately, many times religious people fight with each other because it is my way or no way – my way leads to Gan Eden and your way leads downstairs. We end up with Sefardim vs. Ashkenazim, Chasidim vs. Misnagdim, Chareidim vs. non-Chareidim, Zionists vs. non-Zionists, eruv vs. no eruv, my shul vs. your shul, Cubs vs. White Sox.  They all are valid. But, they are so blinded that they cannot see that the other side also has validity. Not everybody can be one way. The Jewish people are not cookie cutters.

That is a summary of Tisha B’Av. The bright side is that the Jewish people have shown the ability to unite. Unfortunately, in the past it has taken a war, death or illness to accomplish that goal. We should not have to go to that extreme. Why can’t we obtain unity through life – via the Torah? The Torah is an Eitz Chayim – a tree of life. If we allow ourselves to view life through the prism of the Torah – without any other external factors - through the Torah we can attain our goal of unity with life and Tisha B’av will become a day of hope and celebration.