Posted on July 23, 2020
Shabbat Hazon Parashat D’varim
July 24th, 2020 / 3 Av 5780
At the beginning of the book of D’varim, Deuteronomy, Moshe stands in front of the people of Israel and says: “How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden, and the bickering!” In other words, Moshe is saying that he cannot do it alone.
Moshe goes on to explain that he appointed tribal leaders, people with wisdom and experience, to be judges and magistrates. Most of our commentators connect this to Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro who came to visit back in the book of Exodus almost forty years earlier. Yitro told Moshe that he would burn out if he continued to do all the judging himself and instructed him to delegate responsibility. Moshe took that advice on the spot and according to most of our commentators, he is retelling that story here, albeit without mentioning Yitro. He cannot do it alone.
The other day I heard a different interpretation. I heard it from Reb Miri Feigelson and she in turn learned it from the Ishbitzer Rebbe. (To read or listen to Rabbi Feigleson’s d’var Torah see https://schechter.edu/parashat-devarim/ ) What does it mean when Moshe says that he cannot do it alone? It means that he wants the people to turn to God and say; “We will not enter the Land unless Moshe comes with us.” I find this reading utterly astonishing. I am trying to imagine Moshe wanting the people to stand up for him, to have his back. We usually think of Moshe standing up for the people, not the other way around. What an idea! And the tragedy of the story is that the people did not hear that message from Moshe and hence did not refuse to enter the land without Moshe. I want to shout: “If that is what you wanted, Moshe, why did you not say so? Why were you so oblique?”
Maybe Moshe’s comment is simpler than that. Maybe, when Moshe says that he cannot do it alone, he is telling the people that we are all responsible for each other. If even Moshe cannot do it alone, so too the rest of us — we cannot do it alone either and we should not try to.
This is the Shabbat preceding Tisha b’Av, known as Shabbat Hazon. We are about to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. On erev Tisha b’Av, Wednesday, July 29th at 7:30 pm, we are going to have the opportunity to express some of our emotions that our Temple building is closed for the duration of this COVID crisis, (though most emphatically our Congregation is open even if our building is closed). It is said that the Temple in Jerusalem fell because of sinat hinam, wanton disregard for each other among Jews.
We cannot do it alone. Let us reaffirm our communal responsibility in this time period of Tisha b’Av. It can get lonely at home. I know that many of us are calling others to check-in. Let us each add one more person to our list of those we are checking – that is one way we can affirm communal responsibility. We have daily weekday morning Zoom minyan. Since I have been aboard there has not been a day that we did not make a minyan; let’s see how long we can keep up the streak. Let us each add one (more) morning a week to our minyan plans. This coming week is Tisha b’Av. Join us for Eicha reading on Wednesday evening and take the opportunity to express how we feel about not being able to access the Temple. See below for details. Learning together is another way we can affirm communal responsibility. Look for the many opportunities that are offered to learn with me and with others over the coming several months. The more people who join in, the more fun it will be! And join a committee and help plan the kind of events you would like to see: adult education committee, programming committee, centennial committee.
Moshe cannot do it alone. None of us can do it alone. When we do it together it gets better and better. That is what our community is all about.