Devarim

July 25, 2012

Devarim

This is taken from Shm’uot HaRiyah (Rav Kook) 1929

Already from its opening sentence, we see that the final book of the Pentateuch is different from the first four. Instead of the usual introductory statement, “God spoke to Moses, saying,” we read:

“These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel on the far side of the Jordan River …” (Deut. 1:1)
Unlike the other four books, Deuteronomy is largely a record of speeches that Moses delivered to the people before his death. The Talmud (Megillah 31b) confirms that the prophetic nature of this book is qualitatively different than the others. While the other books of the Torah are a direct transmission of God’s word, Moses said Deuteronomy mipi atzmo — “on his own.” 

However, we cannot take this statement — that Deuteronomy consists of Moses’ own words — at face value. Moses could not have literally composed this book on his own, for the Sages taught that a prophet is not allowed to say in God’s name what he did not hear from God (Shabbat 104a). So what does it mean that Moses wrote Deuteronomy mipi atzmo? In what way does this book differ from the previous four books of the Pentateuch?

Tadir versus Mekudash

The distinction between different levels of prophecy may be clarified by examining a Talmudic discussion in Zevachim 90b. The Talmud asks the following question: if we have before us two activities, one of which is holier (mekudash), but the second is more prevalent (tadir), which one should we perform first? The Sages concluded that the more prevalent activity takes precedence over the holier one, and should be discharged first.

One might infer from this ruling that the quality of prevalence is more important, and for this reason the more common activity is performed first. In fact, the exact opposite is true. If something is rare, this indicates that it belongs to a very high level of holiness — so high, in fact, that our limited world does not merit benefiting from this exceptional holiness on a permanent basis. Why then does the more common event take precedence? This is in recognition that we live in an imperfect world. We are naturally more receptive to and influenced by a lesser, more sustainable sanctity. In the future, however, the higher, transitory holiness will come first.

The First and Second Luchot

This distinction between mekudash and tadir illustrates the difference between the first and second set of luchot (tablets) that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. The first tablets were holier, a reflection of the singular unity of the Jewish people at that point in history. As the Midrash comments on Exodus 19:2, “The people encamped — as one person, with one heart — opposite the mountain” (Mechilta; Rashi ad loc).

After the sin of the Golden Calf, however, the Jewish people no longer deserved the special holiness of the first tablets. Tragically, the first luchot had to be broken; otherwise, the Jewish people would have warranted destruction. With the holy tablets shattered, the special unity of Israel also departed. This unity was later partially restored with the second covenant that they accepted upon themselves while encamped across the Jordan River on the plains of Moab. (The Hebrew name for this location, “Arvot Moav”, comes from the word arvut, meaning mutual responsibility.)

The exceptional holiness of the first tablets, and the special unity of the people at Mount Sinai, were simply too holy to maintain over time. They were replaced by less holy but more attainable substitutes — the second set of tablets, and the covenant at Arvot Moav.

Moses and the Other Prophets

After the sin of the Golden Calf, God offered to rebuild the Jewish people solely from Moses. Moses was unsullied by the sin of the Golden Calf; he still belonged to the transient realm of elevated holiness. Nonetheless, Moses rejected God’s offer. He decided to include himself within the constant holiness of Israel. This is the meaning of the Talmudic statement that Moses wrote Deuteronomy “on his own.” On his own accord, Moses decided to join the spiritual level of the Jewish people, and help prepare the people for the more sustainable holiness through the renewed covenant of “Arvot Moav”.

Moses consciously limited the prophetic level of Deuteronomy so that it would correspond to that of other prophets. He withdrew from his unique prophetic status, a state where “No other prophet arose in Israel like Moses” (Deut. 34:10). With the book of Deuteronomy, he initiated the lower but more constant form of prophecy that would suit future generations. He led the way for the other prophets, and fortold that “God will establish for you a prophet from your midst like me” (Deut. 18:15).

In the future, however, the first set of tablets, which now appear to be broken, will be restored. The Jewish people will be ready for a higher, loftier holiness, and the mekudash will take precedent over the tadir. For this reason,the Holy Ark held both sets of tablets; each set was kept for its appropriate time.

TISHA BE’AV

When Tishah b’Av Falls on Shabbat it is postponed until Sunday but commences an hour before Shabbat concludes. This presents some special circumstances with halachot which are not well known. So here are some:

Many of the distinctively somber practices of Erev Tishah b’Av are modified or done away with so as not to infringe upon the kavod and oneg of Shabbat.

On Shabbat, If one can occupy himself on Shabbos afternoon studying topics which pertain to Tishah b’Av or to mourning, he should do so. If he cannot, he may study what he does ordinarily. It is customary that Pirkei Avos is not studied on this Shabbos.

The usual seudah ha-mafseket restrictions do not apply on Shabbat. At the last meal before the fast—which is seudah shelishit on Shabbat—one may eat meat and drink wine and consume whatever food he desires.. One should not, however, state explicitly that he is eating in order to have strength for the fast. It is permitted to take a pill to help ease the fast.

Eating seudah shelishit with family members is permissible. Company, however, should be avoided—unless one usually has company for seudah shelishit. Birkas ha-Mazon may be said with a zimun. Zemirot may be sung, even by one who does not always sing them.

Eating, drinking, or washing any part of the body is permitted until sunset only. If one recited Birkat ha-Mazon before sunset, he may eat or drink until sunset.

One may sit on a chair until nightfall (tzeis ha-kochavim).

Since it is not proper to wear Shabbos clothes on Tishah b’Av, it is recommended that one change clothes after nightfall, but before Ma’ariv. Baruch ha-mavdil should be recited before changing into weekday clothes.

No preparations for Tishah b’Av may be made until Shabbat is over. Tishah b’Av shoes or Kinos (unless studied on Shabbos) may not be brought to shul until nightfall, even in an area with an eiruv.

Motza’ei Shabbat.

Shabbat shoes may not be removed until nightfall. The custom in many places is to remove them after saying Barechu at Ma’ariv. Others remove their shoes after reciting Baruch ha-mavdil but before Barechu, provided that it is already nightfall. This option is advisable for large groups of people (such as a camp) in order to avoid a long break between Barechu and Ma’ariv.

Atah chonantanu is said in Shemoneh Esrei. Women who do not recite Ma’ariv must remember to recite Baruch ha-mavdil at the conclusion of Shabbat.

After Ma’ariv but before the reading of Eichah, a candle is lit and Borei me’orei ha-eish is recited. If one forgot or failed to do so, Borei me’orei ha-eish may be recited anytime throughout the night.

Customarily, Borei me’orei ha-eish is recited by one person for the entire congregation.

On Sunday:

The rules of fasting for pregnant or nursing women or elderly or weak people are more lenient when Tishah b’Av falls on Shabbos and the fast is deferred until Sunday. One should consult a rav concerning his /her specific situation.

If a bris milah falls on Sunday the tenth of Av, most poskim allow the father, mohel, and sandek to eat a seudas mitzvah after Minchah Gedolah. A minority opinion rules that they should finish their fast and hold the seudah after the conclusion of the fast..

Before breaking a fast because of illness or to celebrate a bris milah, Havdalah should be recited. Many poskim hold that wine or grape juice may not be drunk and Havdalah should be recited on a Shehakol beverage such as beer, coffee, or tea . Another option is to use wine or grape juice, but have a minor (preferably between the ages of 6-9) drink the wine. Other poskim allow even an adult to drink the minimum amount of wine or grape juice.

There are various views among the poskim concerning the recitation of Havdalah for women who are not fasting (due to illness, pregnancy, or nursing). The preferred option is that she or a minor drink the beverage. If she cannot or will not, there are poskim who permit her to eat without reciting Havdalah.

Most poskim hold that minors do not need to hear or recite Havdalah before eating.

On Sunday night:

After the fast is over, one may not eat until Havdalah is recited. Women should hear Havdalah from their husbands or a neighbor. If it is difficult for a woman to wait for Havdalah, she may drink before Havdalah. If drinking is not sufficient, some poskim allow her to eat without hearing Havdalah while others hold that she should make Havdalah herself.

Havdalah may be recited over wine or grape juice, and it need not be given to a minor to drink.

Only the blessings of Borei peri ha-gafen and ha-Mavdil are recited. Borei me’orei ha-eish is not recited, even if one forgot to recite that blessing the previous night.

When Sunday is the tenth of Av, it is permitted to take a haircut, shave, do laundry, sew, bathe and recite Shehecheyanu immediately after the fast. Meat and wine (other than the wine from Havdalah) should not be consumed until the next morning. Listening to music should be avoided until the next morning. When Sunday is the ninth of Av, all of those activities are forbidden until chatzos on Monday.

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom and an easy and meaningful fast.

Rabbi Meir Wise

3 Responses to “Devarim”

  1. I’ve been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the net will be much more useful than ever before.

  2. Shlomi said

    The question of whether Tadir takes precedence to Mekudash, or vice versa, is a be’aya delo ifshita – an unresolved question, both in the Talmud itself and in the Rambam (Temidin Umusofin 9, 2). Therefore, one would have to question the basis for Rabbi Kook’s dvar torah.

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