DEVORIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22)/TISHA B’AV — “Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits”


This Monday night through Tuesday will be Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the disastrous month of Av.  This full-day fast is similar to Shiva.   We sit on low chairs, refrain from socializing, and wear only non-leather footwear.  This time is spent in contemplation of all the calamities that have befallen our People on Tisha B’Av, including the burning of both Temples, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Pogroms and the beginning of World War I.  The fast begins Monday  at sundown, and ends on Tuesday at dusk, (25-72 minutes after sunset, depending upon local custom. To find sunrise and sunset times for your community click here.)

For a brief listing of infamous events that took place on Tisha B’Av throughout history, click here.

For more information on the observance of Tisha B’av and the days leading up to it, click here andhere.


“Dropping  Hints and Lifting Spirits”

The end of Moses’ life was at hand.  The People of Israel would soon be entering the Land of Israel.  He would no longer be around to lead them.  He would no longer be able to give them advice.  It was now or never.  And so begins Moses’ final sermon, the Book of Deuteronomy:

These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel, on the opposite (East) bank of the Jordan, in the Desert, in the Aravah, opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and Lavan, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahav.  (Deuteronomy, 1:1)

Rashi explains that Moses was not addressing them in the Desert, in the Aravah, etc., but rather, he was addressing them IN REFERENCE TO WHAT HAD HAPPENED in the Desert, in the Aravah, etc.  Moses was using this opportunity to reprimand the Israelites for the sins they had committed over the past forty years.  (All interpretations below are from Rashi’s commentary):

In the Desert — Shortly after the Exodus from Egypt, the People complained about the lack of food.

In the Aravah — The Israelites worshipped the idol Baal Pe’or, in the Aravah (Plain) of Moab.

Opposite the Red Sea — As the Egyptian army pursued the escaping Israelites with the goal of driving them into the Sea, the Israelites displayed a lack of faith and complained, “Were there no graves in Egypt?” (Exodus, 14:11)

Between Paran — (See “What Was Moses’ Last Name?”  and “Fringe Benefits” ) ten of whom maligned the Land of Israel, gave their report in the Paran Desert, leading to forty years of wandering in the desert.  (They gave their report on Tisha B’Av.)

Tofel, and Lavan — The Talmud points out that these places do not exist.  This is actually a reference to the fact that TAFLU — they complained about the Manna, which is LAVAN — white.

Hazeroth — Korach’s rebellion took place in Hazeroth.

Di-zahav –They took all the gold that G-d had allowed them to take out of Egypt, and turned it into a Golden Calf.  (Di-zahav literally means “Enough Gold.”)


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!!!!!”

I have another question.  What took Moses so long?  Some of these events had happened forty years ago!  Many, if not most, of the actual perpetrators of these sins were dead!

Was Moses such a bitter man that he carried around resentment and anger for all those years?  Was he finally “letting go?”


Actually, we see here the profound love that Moses had for his People.

Nobody likes to be told off.  It is unpleasant.  It is embarrassing.  Once someone has reprimanded us, we re-live the discomfort every time we see bump into them at 7-11.  The Talmud says that Moses wanted to avoid that problem.  He waited until shortly before his death so that the people wouldn’t have to deal with the uncomfortable situations of meeting him.

Why the hints?  Moses was not looking to drag Israel’s noses in the dirt.  If you can be subtle when correcting someone and still get the message across, why use a sledgehammer?

Nachmanides explains that the reason Moses reviewed all the sins that Israel had committed was NOT to tell them how bad they were.  Rather, he wanted to remind Israel how compassionate G-d is.  He wanted to remind them that in spite of all they had done wrong, G-d still loves His People and will never abandon them.  Moses wanted us to realize that we should never despair of G-d’s Providence.

G-d loved us then and He loves us now.  He will never forget His People.  Never.

Encouraging words then.  Encouraging words now.

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

“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 of Vilna where 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 of Jerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that the Temple 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 the Temple. 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 in Spain?! 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 on August 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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