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 & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Sarah
-My great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Aviva Malka Bas Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were recently 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
* אֵיכָה ~ Eichah *
In Sefer Devarim, before his death, Moshe Rabbeinu famously “reviews” the Torah before the B’nei Yisrael, re-teaching them the Mitzvos (commandments), 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, as we’ve seen thus far, because first of all, Moshe Rabbeinu does not literally cover everything the Torah had to say until now. He does not start his review from Bereishis (Creation) or even Yetzias Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt). As Moshe proceeds to give his firsthand “review,” he is quite selective when it comes to what he chooses to discuss with the people.
Moreover, there is not only a lot of variance in the way Moshe portrays many of the Torah’s points, but there is much present in Devarim that was not expressed anywhere earlier in the Torah. There are many Mitzvos throughout Devarim that are not found earlier in the Torah text, and in fact, there are many historical points that Moshe mentions here in his firsthand review that were not mentioned in the Torah’s original versions of the narratives.
Obviously, for each occurrence, one has to wonder what the basis for the variance is; however, we’ll just focus on one area for now.
One such occurrence appears early on this Sidrah when Moshe reviews his instating of the judges and officers for the B’nei Yisrael to consult [Devarim 1:9-18]. Between his short introduction pertaining to Har Sinai and the subsequent recounting of the Cheit HaMiraglim (Sin of the Spies), Moshe Rabbeinu decides to focus on this particular scene, his appointment of these court officials. The question is: Why does Moshe focus on this topic of all matters? A lot has happened in between the B’nei Yisrael’s departure from Sinai and their first attempt to enter the Promised Land. What is significant about this particular scene of the appointing of the judges?
But that’s not all. Even the presentation of this episode itself is problematic for a couple of reasons.
Simply put, Moshe’s review of the appointment of the judges and officers is specifically referring back to the innovation made by Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro in Sefer Shemos [Shemos 18:13-26]. 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 (commentators). However, there is a glaring problem, 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 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 makes no reference to his father-in-law at all.
Here’s what he says [Devarim 1:9, 12-13]: “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.”
Indeed, it seems to be that here, Moshe presents the story as if the issue of judging by himself was something he himself noticed all on his own, and that the appointing of the alternative judges, too, was his own innovation. Now, what happened here? Did Yisro forget to copyright his idea, and so Moshe just took the credit? Why is Yisro’s role in event left out of Moshe’s version of the story?
Another odd aspect of Moshe’s version of the narrative is the way Moshe expresses his need for more officials to help him. He seems to be strangely overemotional about the issue.
At first, Moshe simply expresses that he is unable to lead the people all by himself. Yisro mentioned this point too, that eventually, Moshe would wear out from fatigue if he’s all alone addressing the people. But, Moshe adds, 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?”
Now, the word “Eichah” [אֵיכָה], literally, “How,” is not merely used to ask the simple question “How do I make a pizza?” or “How do I tie my shoes?” but it is used in Scripture as a woeful exclamation that is merely in the form of the question, “How can it be?” or in this case, “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 can’t 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 (Holy Temple).
As it happens, the Midrash, Eichah Rabbasi [1:1] actually lists Moshe’s unique usage of the word “Eichah” with Yirmiyah’s, apparently seeing 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 Megillas Eichah is read publically as Klal Yisrael nationally mourns its Galus (exile), the destructions of the two Temples and other 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 Megillas Eichah.
But, here’s 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 is talking about these terrible tragedies, utter destruction, and exile. Moshe is talking about how hard it is 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. Why does Moshe use this expression anyway? Why is he lamenting? He didn’t do that back when Yisro was around. In fact, he wasn’t outwardly stressed out at all when Yisro saw him judging by himself. Yisro initiated and told him to get some help, and Moshe did just that. Why is Moshe, all of a sudden, standing here, literally with his sob story, lamenting about being all alone? It’s not such a hard problem to fix. Yes, there are a lot of litigants and only one of him—so just appoint some people to help out and then everything will be okay. No need to cry. Why is Moshe getting so emotional?
For some reason, the story about Moshe’s woes as the lone leader is Moshe’s preface for the Sin of the Spies. It happens to be that according to tradition, the Sin of the Spies, too, occurred on the 9th of Av, another convenient connection between the two contexts, but what intrinsically does Moshe’s apparent difficulty of leading alone have to do with that tragedy which resulted in the national exile? To answer this question, we have to better understand Moshe’s concerns.
Why is Moshe’s recounting of the story of how he appointed the judges so different from the original version in Parshas Yisro? Why isn’t Yisro even mentioned once here?
In his commentary on the Chumash, R’ J. H. Hertz casually points out that our text of Moshe’s speech actually contains parallels to two different stories. Yes, there is more than one passage about the appointment of additional people to help Moshe lead the nation. Apparently, Moshe is referencing both the episode with Yisro [Shemos 18], when he appointed the judges, and the later scene in Parshas B’Ha’alosecha [B’Midbar 11:4-17] when the Zikeinim, the seventy additional elders of the Sanhedrin (court), joined Moshe in not just judging, but in prophesying and leading the people with him. While we had no trace of Moshe getting worked up in Parshas Yisro, when we get to Parshas B’Ha’alosecha, we see that, indeed, Moshe does get worked up. In fact, Moshe expresses his woes very clearly when he says there [B’Midbar 11:14], “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,” 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 is not merely judging the people alone that bothers Moshe, but it is about addressing all of their constant complaints and arguing about every little thing that bothers them—whether about meat, or about how they dislike Manna, or about how they miss their Egyptian cucumbers. At this part of the story, Moshe articulates with unmistakable grief that he never wanted the job of carrying the burden of the people, and that he would rather die.
Clearly, this second account of Moshe’s apparent difficulty with leading alone is a little bit more intense and provides more of a precedent for Moshe’s “lamenting” here in Devarim. And as for the question why Moshe is getting so emotional if he could simply get people to help, apparently, it wasn’t merely the lack of additional people which was the true source of the problem. In fact, the first time around, Moshe “got help,” and still, in Sefer B’Midbar, Moshe is having trouble. He is still expressly “alone.” Apparently, Moshe’s issue all along was not entirely about there being too many people to judge at once. That much is actually evident from Moshe’s own words in Devarim!
In his speech, Moshe says [Devarim 1:10-11] “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.”
Moshe explicitly praises their increased size and wishes that they continue to multiply. Having a multitude of people in the B’nei Yisrael is apparently a wonderful, potentially bearable thing! What is Moshe’s real issue? It’s something far greater. Moshe can tolerate and deal with “a lot of people.” His problem is: “Eichah Esa Levadi Tarchachem U’Ma’asachem V’Rivchem?”-“How can I alone bear your troubles, and your burdens and your quarrels?” It’s their troubles—their constant complaints and opposition, their negativity and their fighting, that Moshe cannot deal with alone. It is because they expedite natural contention and feelings of isolation and lonesomeness in both their leaders and among each other that Moshe is now lamenting.
All of the above explains why Moshe did not mention Yisro in his recounting of the story of the appointment of the court officials. Apparently, Moshe is not merely recounting the single story about appointing judges in Yisro’s time, but he is reviewing a larger, recurring story of the hardships he has been dealing with. The people, not because of their multiplication, but because of their division, constantly made Moshe feel alone.
And if one looks at our verse of Moshe’s lamentation alongside the opening verse of Megillas Eichah a little closer, one will notice a further connection, that both highlight this theme of lonesomeness, as our verse says “Eichah Esa Levadi…”-“How can I alone bear…?” and the first line in Eichah says [Eichah 1:1], “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…?”
Moreover, both texts reference the idea of having a multitude of people; Moshe praises the increased B’nei Yisrael, and Eichah refers to Yerushalayim as the “Ir Rabbasi Am,” the city great [multiplied] with people.”
Apparently, in their roots, both of these texts are dealing with lonesomeness amidst a large group of people, the B’nei Yisrael. In Devarim, Moshe tells 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, is somehow alone. Hashem’s Divine Presence is alone. Moreover, throughout our history, as our nation complains and suffers for it, as they fight Moshe and each other, leading themselves into all forms of exile, each individual member of what should be a great and united nation, as well, ends 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—it was the basis for Cheit HaMiraglim, when the nation declared the worst of their complaints against Moshe and G-d. It is what cuased them to complained about the Manna. It is the reason they joined Korach in his rebellion. It is 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 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.
So, what’s the solution? How do we end the contention and lonesomeness? 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” [Eichah 1:2, 9, 16-17, 21], how Yerushalayim and each one of its lonely inhabitants sits alone, separated from each other. The answer is that Sin’as Chinam has to end. We have to mourn and cry together, to consider the longings and desires of each other, to share in each other’s happiness and pain alike. We have to look out for the welfare of our leaders, followers and peers. 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 meaningful/final Tish’ah B’Av.
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg