DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’AV — “Torah Talk”

“Hey, how’d he do that?”

“How’d WHO do WHAT?”

“Didn’t you hear that speech?”

“Yes, of course, it was very inspiring.  But he is, after all, a great man.  So why are you surprised?”

Because he doesn’t know how to do that!!!”


It all started almost 120 years before.  The Talmud (Shemos Rabbah, 1:26) describes how Baby Moses upset his adopted grandfather.  Bisya, the daughter of the Pharaoh, was raising this little baby in the palace.  (See“A Helping Hand”.)  “Grandpa Pharaoh” was enjoying this adorable child, hugging and kissing him.  The precocious little boy proceeded to grab the king’s crown and place it on his own head.

The king’s advisors saw this as an ominous sign.  Perhaps this child was the future savior of Israel whose birth had been predicted by the astrologers.  If so, they advised, he had to be killed.  One of his advisors, a fellow named Jethro (Moses’ future father-in-law!), proposed a test.  Place a platter containing gold and a red-hot coal in front of the baby.  If he grabs the coal because it glitters, well and good.  But if he demonstrates the intelligence to understand that the gold is more valuable…

Moses almost passed (and therefore, almost failed!) the test.  He reached for the gold.  The angel Gabriel moved his hand over to the coal which he lifted up and placed it into his mouth, burning it.

For the rest of his life, Moses was handicapped.  He had some form of a speech impediment.  This stutter, or lisp, or whatever it was, hindered his ability to communicate.  He felt, for example, that he lacked the ability to address the Pharaoh due to his inability to speak well.  (See Exodus, 4:10 and 6:12)  G-d reassured him that with Aaron as a spokesman, and with G-d’s help, everything would be alright.

And so it continued throughout the years in the desert.   There were many times that Moses gave instructions to the Nation. These instructions, according to the Talmud (Eiruvin 34b) were usually conveyed through Aaron or the Elders.


Now Moses was on his own.

It was almost the end of his life.  He had things he needed to tell the people directly.  He wanted to reprimand them for past errors, and give them direction and encouragement for the future.  The Book of Deuteronomy is also known as “Mishneh Torah — a Review of the Torah.”  The Book of Deuteronomy is, in Moses’ own words, the final instructions from a devoted leader to his beloved nation.

And he had to make the speech by himself:

These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel …  (Deuteronomy, 1:1)

Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the people were shocked.  Everybody knew that Moses was “… not a man of words … heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” (Exodus, 4:21) Moses was a man of many talents, but a public speaker he wasn’t.   Yet, there now flowed from his lips words of profundity and inspiration delivered with articulation and eloquence.  For 120 years, he couldn’t speak well.  Now he was a talented orator.   Where’d he learn how to do that?

“Yesterday you were ‘…not a man of words…’ and today you speak like this?!”

Our Sages explain that it was Moses the Egyptian prince who couldn’t speak well.  Mount Sinai and a life of Torah transformed him into a different person.  His study of Torah healed him.  The Torah that filled his life changed him.  The words of Moses the Man of G-d, the Shepherd of Israel were not the same words that had once come from Moses the prince.

Torah changes all of us.  It uplifts us and inspires us.  It gives our life new meaning and importance.  We are not simply human mammals striving to exist.  We are people of G-d, working to make the world a holier and better place.  When you do a Mitzvah, any Mitzvah, you grow into a more spiritual person than you were before.  You become a better person and you improve the world around you.


And that is why you now have a great responsibility placed upon you.

Tisha B’Av is coming upon us once again.  As usual, our enemies are doing every thing they can to destroy us.  These are very frightening times.  We must do everything we can to help the war effort.  Write to your elected officials and encourage the leaders of our wonderful country to continue to stand by Israel.

And use your words.  Pray for Israel.  Pray for peace in our battered homeland.  Pray to G-d like you’ve never prayed before.

What’s that you say?  You’re not so religious?  You don’t know how to pray?  You don’t know the right words?

Let’s remember what G-d said to Moses, who did not consider himself to be a “man of words”:

“Who makes a mouth for man, or who makes one dumb or deaf, or sighted or blind?  Is it not I, G-d?!  So now go!  I will be with your mouth and teach you what you should say!”  (ibid, verse 11)

Pray to G-d.  He will help you pray to Him.  Beg our father in Heaven to have compassion on His Nation and frustrate the efforts of our/His enemies.

And another thing.  This Wednesday night is Tisha B’Av.  It is the day when we remember all the tragedies that have befallen Israel.  Join your People in the fast.  Skip a few meals and pray that we avert another tragedy.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has put out the request that all of us who are able to fast should do so.  Even those who have never fasted before.  Israeli soldiers on the front line are in mortal danger; they need their strength, and many of them will not be able to fast.  Fast for them and pray for them.

And let us pray that we will soon see the day when Israel and all the world can live in peace.  Let us look forward to the day when Tisha B’Av will be spent remembering the “bad old days,” and celebrating G-d’s salvation in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.

Have a Good Shabbos, and a meaningful fast.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives

“Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits” (2011)

… I have a question.  Why is Moses beating around the bush?!  What’s with the hinting?  Why doesn’t the Torah describe Moses coming out with a shotguns-blazing, Fire-and-Brimstone reprimand?   Why doesn’t he say, “Listen Israel, your behavior has been horrendous!   You complained about the lack of food.  You worshipped Baal Pe’or.  You displayed a lack of faith at the Red Sea.  You listened to the lies of the spies.  You complained about the Manna and supported Korach’s rebellion.  You turned all that gold into a Golden Calf.  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!!!!!” …

Read more.


“Back to Normal?” (2009) 

…The people were concerned.  Sure, they had seen plenty of miracles.  But that was when Moses was around.  What would happen “post-Moses?”  Would the miracles still flow like the waters of the traveling well? Would Heavenly Bread still fall in front of their tents?  Would those pillars of fire and cloud still lead them?

Joshua was a fine student.  He was Moses’ best protégé.  However, to paraphrase  Senator Bentson:  “We served under Moses.  We know Moses.  He is a prophet of G-d.  Joshua, you’re no Moses!”…

Read more.


“Wearable Clothes for Terrible Times” (2007)

… It must seem strange to envision people celebrating the Sabbath in a less-than-“Sabbatical” mode of dress.  Can you imagine sitting in Shul Friday night next to a carpenter in his overalls and the Roto-Rooter guy in his galoshes?

Actually, most people don’t follow that custom.  The Chofetz Chaim writes that the prevalent custom is that of the city ofVilnawhere they permitted the donning of Shabbos clothes on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av …

One may be tempted to ask – Isn’t this rather superficial?  What difference does it make?  Why so much emphasis on what you’re wearing?  If you want to dress for Shabbos, dress for Shabbos!  If you want to wear weekday clothes, wear weekday clothes!  What’s the big deal?  And, as long as we’re on the topic, why don’t you rejoin the human race and take a bath?!!…

Read more.


 “Torah Talk” (2006)

“Hey, how’d he do that?”

“How’d WHO do WHAT?”

“Didn’t you hear that speech?”

“Yes, of course, it was very inspiring.  But he is, after all, a great man.  So why are you surprised?”

Because he doesn’t know how to do that!!!”

It all started almost 120 years before.  The Talmud (Shemos Rabbah,1:26) describes how Baby Moses upset his adopted grandfather…

Read more.


“Cry, O Zion …” (2005)

… “Cry, O Zion, and her cities, like a woman in the pains of childbirth, and like a young woman dressed in sackcloth, mourning for her young husband.”  (From the Tisha B’Av prayers.)

Imagine the agonizing physical pain of childbirth; what could be more painful?  Envision the emotional pain of a young widow; what could be more heartrending?…

Read more.


“Selective Memory” (2004)

… Did Moses give a fair description of the events as they actually occurred?  Based on Moses’ version, it seems like the people heard a positive report and rejected it.  In reality, as we see from actually reading about it, there was a spirited debate.  Ten spies said it was bad; two spies said it was good… why did Moses change the story?  Why did he imply that there had been no negative report at all? …

Read more.


 “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)”  (2002)

… In the book by that name, the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Eichah — how can it be that the city once filled with people has become like a widow…?”  (Lamentations, 1:1) Jeremiah stares with disbelief as he sees the once-great city ofJerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that theTemple has been destroyed and the royal house of  Israel has been led, in disgrace, into captivity.

Jeremiah’s wail continues to this day.  Throughout the world, Jews will sit and read Jeremiah’s words and cry over the pains of our exile…  “Eichah,” how could it be that the Jews of  Warsaw were deported to Treblinka beginning on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how can it be that a world tolerates the wanton murder of innocent people by a nation that sacrifices its own children for the “Mitzvah” of killing Jews?  “Eichah,” HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?!! …

Read more.


“Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy” (2001)

… I had a very interesting experience this week … the prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine … doesn’t apply at a Bris… It was a strange inconsistency. On the one hand, we are in mourning for theTemple. On the other hand, we are having a party! Where is our concern for our people? Aren’t we supposed to remember our brethren who were burned at the stake inSpain?! Aren’t we supposed to lament the victims of the Holocaust and the Intifada?! How can we cry to G-d to rescue us from our anguish when we’re eating prime rib and parve ice cream?! …

Read more.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on July 28, 2006 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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