|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
דְּבָרִים ● Devarim
● For what was Moshe mourning with the word, “Eichah”? ●
Sefer Devarim, as we’ve been describing it, is known as Moshe Rabbeinu “review” of the Torah in which he re-teaches the B’nei Yisrael the the Mitzvos their history, and all the other necessary teachings.
However, if one looks at Devarim’s contents thoroughly and compares them with rest of the Torah, one will notice that Devarim could not merely be a “review” of the Torah, at least not the entire Torah as we’ve seen thus far. That is because, first of all, Moshe Rabbeinu does not literally cover all of the material of the Torah’s contents until now. He does not start his review from Bereishis or the story of Creation, nor does he even begin from Yetzias Mitzrayim, our Exodus from Egypt. As Moshe proceeds to give his firsthand “review,” he was quite selective when it comes to what he chooses to discuss with the people.
Moreover, not only is there much variance in the way Moshe portrays many of the Torah’s content, but there is much present in Devarim that was not expressed anywhere earlier in the Torah. For example, there are many Mitzvos throughout Devarim that are not found earlier in the Torah text. Similarly, there are plenty of historical points that Moshe recalled here in his firsthand review that were not depicted in the Torah’s original recounting of the same narratives.
Obviously, for each piece of Moshe’s speech, one has to wonder what the basis for the variance is; however, we’ll just focus on one such area for now.
TODAY’S SITE: Moshe’s Institution of Judges
One such occurrence of Moshe’s selective attention and re-piecing of history appears early on this Sidrah can be found in Moshe’s review of his institution of the judges and officers who would service the Rabbinic-judicial needs of the B’nei Yisrael.1 Between Moshe’s short introduction pertaining to Har Sinai and his subsequent recounting of the Cheit HaMiraglim or the Sin of the Spies, Moshe Rabbeinu decided to focus on this particular scene, his appointment of these court officials. The question is why. Why did Moshe call this topic to our attention, of all matters? A lot had happened in between the B’nei Yisrael’s departure from Sinai and their first, failed attempt to enter the Promised Land. He did not concentrate on all of the history. He did not even choose to discuss the Cheit HaEigel, the monumental Sin of the Golden Calf. What then was so significant and noteworthy about this particular scene of the appointment of the judges?
EXPLORING: Moshe’s “Memory” of that Instituion
Not only is Moshe’s fixation on his institution of the judges odd, his presentation of this episode itself is strange for a couple of reasons.
- Moshe’s Omission of Yisro
From the simple read, Moshe’s review of the appointment of the judges and officers appears to be a referrence to the innovation made by Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro in Sefer Shemos.2 Indeed, there are many undeniable textual and thematic parallels between our text and that text supporting this suggestion, and as such, this understanding is assumed by most of the leading M’forshim. However, if that is true, then there is a glaring problem with Moshe’s “memory” of the event, looking at the two texts together.
Back in Shemos, Moshe, as per his responsibilities, had insisted on addressing and judging all of the issues of the people whenever they needed to consult him. Yisro, though, had told Moshe that it would be detrimental for Moshe to judge the people all day by himself. Yisro specifically advised him to instate these officials who could judge most matters while only a select few cases would be tried in front of Moshe. Moshe agreed to the matter and followed Yisro’s advice.
Now, fast-forward to the review in Devarim. Here, Moshe made no reference to his father-in-law at all, giving him zero credit for the idea. Thus, he reported: “VaOmar Aleichem Ba’Eis HaHi Leimor Lo Uchal Levadi S’eis Es’chem…Eichah Esa Levadi Tarchachem U’Masa’achem V’Rivchem? Havu Lachem Anashim…VaAsimeim B’Rasheichem”-“And I said at that time saying: I am unable to bear you alone… How can I alone bear your troubles, and your burdens and your quarrels? Provide for yourselves men…and I will place them as your heads.”3
Indeed, it seems that not only did Moshe not credit Yisro, but he even presented Yisro’s idea and innovation as though it were entirely his own. From his own words here, Moshe describes how he had taken issue with the circumstances that he was judging by himself as if it was something he himself noticed himself. And yet, there is not a trace of Yisro is the recounting. Why did Moshe neglect to credit Yisro for his contribution in his version of the story?
- Moshe’s Mourning – The Tune of “Eichah”
Another odd aspect of Moshe’s version of the narrative is the way Moshe expressed his need for more officials to assist him. In this installment, Moshe’s emotion emerges, and it does so in a seemingly overly dramatic way.
At first, Moshe simply expressed that he was unable to lead the people all by himself. Yisro had mentioned this point too, that eventually, Moshe would wear out from fatigue if he would remain all alone when addressing the people. But, in his own version, Moshe added the following response, as was quoted above, “Eichah Esa Levadi Tarchachem U’Masa’achem V’Rivchem?”-“How can I alone bear your troubles, and your burdens and your quarrels?”3
Now, the word “Eichah” [אֵיכָה], literally, “How,” is not merely used to ask the simple, intellectual question of how something works, such as “How does one make pizza?” or “How do you tie shoes?” but it is used in Scripture as a woeful exclamation that is merely in the form of the question and wonderment, such as, “How can it be?” In his case, Moshe was asking, in a state of woeful wonderment, “How can I possibly do this myself?” The exclamation means to intimate: “It just can’t be—but it is,” or in our case, “I just could not do it alone—but I am being made to.”
In this vein, the expression “Eichah” is most famously used in the book of its namesake, Megillas Eichah, the Scroll of Lamentations, authored by Yirmiyah HaNavi, describing and lamenting over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
As it happens, the Midrash4 actually lists Moshe’s unique usage of the word “Eichah” with Yirmiyah’s, apparently drawing some connection between the two.
Interestingly enough, Parshas Devarim is always read right before Tish’ah B’Av (9th of Av) which is the day on which Megilas Eichah is read publically as Am Yisrael nationally mourns its Galus or exile, the destructions of the two Temples and other such tragedies of Jewish history. It is for this reason that the custom has spread in Jewish tradition for the one reciting the Torah Reading for our passage in Devarim to sing our verse “Eichah Esa Levadi…” to the unique solemn tune used for the recitation of Megilas Eichah.
But, here is the problem: Yes, there are some apparent, surface connections between Moshe’s speech and Yirmiyah’s lamentations of Eichah, but what really do the two have to do with each other? Yirmiyah was talking about legitimately terrible tragedies, utter destruction, and exile. Moshe was talking about how challeneging it was to judge the people all alone. They seem to be mostly unconnected.
Moreover, it seems that the main basis for any connection is really usage of the word “Eichah,” which, as far as we’re concerned, is already strange in Moshe’s speech. Because, after all, why was Moshe getting so emotional over the issue altogether? Why did Moshe use this mournful expression? Why was his challenge worth lamenting over?
What is also strange is the disparity between the original account and Moshe’s version. We were not informed of this emotional breakdown in the original account when Yisro was advising Moshe. In fact, Moshe wasn’t visibly stressed at all when Yisro saw him judging by himself. Yisro had to initiate and tell him to get some help because Moshe might eventually collapse under the pressure. That too was Yisro’s observation, which he related to Moshe. And yet, in his report, Moshe presents a monologue in which he claims to have emotionally protested the circumstances that placed him as a lone judge among an entire nation. The question is where Moshe’s story came from?
Moreover, why did this story, all of a sudden, become a source of such stress, in retrospect, such that he seemed to not have experienced originally. Assuming Moshe’s memory was correct, why was Moshe lamenting about being all alone? Was it such a challenging problem to fix? Yes, there are a lot of litigants and only one judge. The simple solution is to delegate. And that was what Moshe ultimately did do. He appointed additional judges to help out. But, why did this simple issue warrant such an emotional response from Moshe?
- Moshe’s Unlikely Preface to the Cheit HaMiraglim
Finally, for some reason, the story about Moshe’s woes as the lone leader was Moshe’s preface for his reviewing of the Cheit HaMiraglim, the infamous Sin of the Spies. Interestingly, as it happens, according to tradition, the Sin of the Spies, too, occurred on the 9th of Av5, another convenient connection between the two contexts, but what intrinsically does Moshe’s apparent difficulty of leading alone have to do with that tragedy of the Miraglim which resulted in the national exile?
VENTURING FORTH: Moshe’s Merging of Stories
To answer these questions, we have to better understand the concerns Moshe had, as he reported them in our Sidrah.
Taking it back from the top, why was Moshe’s recounting of the story of how he appointed the judges so different from the original version in Parshas Yisro? Why wasn’t Yisro even mentioned once in Moshe’s report?
In his comments on the Chumash, R’ J. H. Hertz casually points out that our text of Moshe’s speech actually contains parallels to two different stories that were recorded earlier in the Torah. Yes, there is more than one passage about the appointment of additional officials to help Moshe lead the nation. Apparently, Moshe was referencing both the episode with Yisro2, when he appointed the judges, and the later scene in Parshas B’Ha’alosecha6, when Moshe appointed the Zikeinim, or the seventy additional Elders of the Sanhedrin or the court, who joined Moshe, not just in judging the people, but in prophesying and leading the people with him. The question is why Moshe would splice these two stories together?
ARRIVING: Resolving Moshe’s Review
While we ponder the above question as to why Moshe would interweave two stories, it is fascinating to note that if we accept the suggestion that indeed, Moshe was referring to multiple stories, some of our questions would already begin to fade away, for example, why Moshe omitted Yisro from his report and why Moshe reveals strong emotions he had expressed earlier that we did not see in the original story in Parshas Yisro. Indeed, while we had no trace of Moshe getting worked up in Parshas Yisro, in Parshas B’Ha’alosecha, we find that, indeed, Moshe did get worked up. In fact, Moshe expressed his woes there very clearly when he expressed there, “Lo Uchal Anochi Levadi Laseis Es Kal HaAm HaZeh Ki Kaveid Mimeni”-“I alone am unable to bear this entire people for it is too heavy for me,”6 which, R’ Hertz points out, is almost an exact parallel to the verse in Moshe’s speech here in Devarim.
Furthermore, in B’Ha’alosecha, it was not merely the charge of judging the people alone that bothered Moshe, but it was their constant complaints and bickering about every little issue that bothered them—whether about meat, or about how they dislike Manna, or about how they missed their Egyptian cucumbers. At this part of the story, Moshe articulated with unmistakable grief that he never wanted the job of carrying the burden of the people, and that he would prefer death.
Clearly, this second, more intense account of Moshe’s apparent difficulty with leading alone provides more of a precedent for Moshe’s “lamenting” here in Devarim. And as for the question as to why Moshe got so emotional if he could simply have gotten additional people to help, apparently, it wasn’t merely the lack of people which was the true source of the problem. In fact, the first time around, Moshe was given help, and yet, still, in Sefer Bamidbar, Moshe was having trouble. He was still expressly feeling “alone.” That would explain why Moshe did not give Yisro credit for his innovation of instituting more judges to help him tend to the numerous people he was responsible for. Moshe was not giving any particular credit to the innovation of the court system at all here because his whole point was that although it certainly spread the responsibilities around making the work load easier for Moshe, it did not solve Moshe’s larger issue which had nothing to do with the number of people he had to judge. That larger issue, whatever it was, was what triggered Moshe’s emotional response.
Not only is this conclusion implied by the additional account of B’Ha’alosecha, but it is evident from Moshe’s own words in Devarim! Indeed, in his own speech, Moshe proclaimed, “Hashem Elokeichem Hirbah Es’chem V’Hinchem HaYom K’Choch’vei HaShamayim LaRov; Hashem Elokei Avoseichem Yoseif Aleichem Kachem Elef Pe’amim Vivareich Es’chem KaAsheir Dibeir Lachem”-“Hashem your G-d has increased you, and behold you today are like the stars of the heavens for abundance; Hashem G-d of your forefathers shall add to you, like you, a thousand times, and He shall bless you as He had spoken to you.”7
In other words, Moshe explicitly praised their increased size and wished that they would continue to multiply. Moshe indicated that having a multitude of people in the B’nei Yisrael was apparently a fundamentally wonderful and potentially bearable thing! The numbers didn’t bother Moshe. The question then was what did? Was he happy to lead this large nation or not? What was Moshe’s real issue?
Apparently, Moshe’s issue was something far greater and far more subtle. Moshe could tolerate and deal with “a lot of people.” His problem was, as he put it in our Sidrah: “Eichah Esa Levadi Tarchachem U’Ma’asachem V’Rivchem?”-“How can I alone bear your troubles, and your burdens and your quarrels?”3
In other words, it was their troubles—their constant complaints and opposition, their negativity and their fighting, that Moshe could not bear. It is because they expedite contention and feelings of isolation and lonesomeness in both their leaders and among each other that Moshe was now lamenting.
But again, with all of the above, we can now understand fully why Moshe did not mention Yisro in his recounting of the story about the appointment of the court officials. He was not merely recounting the single story about appointing judges in Yisro’s time, but he was reviewing a larger, recurring story of the hardships he had been dealing with. In this larger story, the people, not because of their multiplication, but because of their division, constantly made Moshe feel alone.
PATHS CONVERGING: Moshe’s Lonesomeness
And if one looks at our verse of Moshe’s lamentation alongside the opening verse of Megillas Eichah, one will notice a further connection, that both verses highlight this theme of lonesomeness, as our verse relates, “Eichah Esa Levadi…”-“How can I alone bear…?” while the first line in Eichah laments similarly, “Eichah Yashvah Badad HaIr Rabbasi Am Haysah Ka’Almanah?”-“How could it be [that] she (Yerushalayim) sits alone, the city great with people, she was like a widow…?”8
Moreover, both texts reference the idea of having a multitude of people; Moshe praised the increasing numbers of the B’nei Yisrael, while Eichah referred to Yerushalayim as the “Ir Rabbasi Am”-“a city, great [multiplied] with people.”
Apparently, in their roots, both of these texts are conveying the theme of lonesomeness amidst a large group of people, the B’nei Yisrael. In Devarim, Moshe related to us how, ironically, while among so many people—the entire nation and even assistant judges following him, he still felt alone. Similarly, in the times of the national exile when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, Yerushalayim too, a city of many people, was somehow alone. Hashem’s Divine Presence remained alone. Moreover, throughout our history, as our nation complained and suffered for it, as they fought Moshe and each other, leading themselves into all forms of exile, each individual member of what should have been a great and united nation, as well, ended up alone, like a widow.
It is this constant negativity and opposition, which Moshe is addressing here, that is the source of all tragedies the B’nei Yisrael have ever faced. Indeed, it was the basis for Cheit HaMiraglim, when the nation declared the worst of their complaints against Moshe and G-d. It is what caused them to complain about the Manna. It is the reason they joined Korach in his rebellion. It was the setting for the situation that caused Moshe to mess up by hitting the rock at Mei Merivah and lose his right to enter the Promised Land. The fire of friction and isolation which the B’nei Yisrael rouses today is the basis of their perpetual exile which reigns in each generation. It is the same fire of Sin’as Chinam (purposeless hatred) which led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. It is the reason for Tish’ah B’Av altogether.
FINAL DESTINATION: The Comfort of Community
The question is where to go from here. What is the solution to this problem? How do we end the contention and the lonesomeness it breeds? How does a divided nation of many lone individuals come together? How can we bring our nation back together, reunite ourselves with Hashem’s Presence? How can we make each other not feel alone?
The sadness of being a widow means not having that shoulder to cry upon, not having any one to provide a sense of comfort during the hard times. One of the themes of the first section of Eichah is that in this time of mourning, there is “no comforter,”9 how Yerushalayim and each one of its lonely inhabitants sits alone, separated from each other. The answer is that Sin’as Chinam and all such negativity has to be replaced with effortful unity. That means that have to mourn and cry together, not at or against each other. It means that we have to consider the longings and desires of one another, to share in each other’s happiness and pain alike. We have to look out for the welfare of our leaders, our peers, and our followers. We have to actively demonstrate unconditional love for each other. We have to stick together and make sure no one is or feels alone. When we unite, Hashem can restore the Temple, the centerpiece that makes us a congregation of brothers and friends. When we’re together, the Divine Presence can join us in Yerushalayim once again. We will no longer be all alone.
May we all be Zocheh to rid ourselves of Sin’as Chinam, come together loving one another, yearning with one another, and Hashem should reunite with us all once again in Yerushalayim in the times of the Geulah, with the building of the third Beis HaMikdash and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos Chazon and a redeeming Tish’ah B’Av!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 1:9-18
- Shemos 18:13-26
- Devarim 1:9, 12-13
- Eichah Rabbasi 1:1
- Ta’anis 29A; See also Rashi to Tehillim 106:27.
- Bamidbar 11:4-17
- Devarim 1:10-11
- Eichah 1:1
- Eichah 1:2, 9, 16-17, 21