>Shabbat Devarim 5771

We always “celebrate” Shabbat, but this particular Shabbat is the most mournful one of the year. It is called Shabbat Hazon, based on the opening word of our haftarah and the Book of Isaiah. That passage is a scathing critique of Israel’s behavior, foretelling the fall of the First Jewish Commonwealth. Most of the haftarah is chanted in Eikhah trope, the melancholy sounds of Tish’ah B’Av, which we observe beginning Monday night.

While the haftarah warns us of losing the sacred Land of Israel, Moshe in our Torah reading reminds the People that the previous generation scorned the Land before they set foot there. He notes the ironic words they said after hearing the scouts’ report: “Our wives and children will be carried off–yihyu lavaz” (Numbers 14:3) The word baz could mean a number of things, such as “despised” and “worthless.” Rabbi Michael Graetz even notices that baz is the Hebrew word for “falcon,” an allusion to the bird of prey that would carry away the bodies of their forsaken children. This, Moshe is saying, explains why the previous generation was unworthy of entering the Land. Not only had they lost confidence in the present; they had abandoned all hope for the future, for their children to endure in the Land.

In recounting this episode to the very children whose parents wrote them off, Moshe’s words are filled with irony. He says God told their parents: “Moreover, your little ones who you said would be carried off, your children who do not yet know good from bad, they shall enter it; to them will I give it and they shall possess it” (Deuteronomy 1:39). God here is imagining that the next generation will have a different perception of the promise of the Land. Rabbi Graetz writes: “The Torah informs us that the children will enjoy the fulfillment of the promise, because they understand what getting a promise like that means for them” (Graetz, Torah from Mercaz Shiluv, Devarim 5764).

The great 16th-century Turkish commentator, Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh, notes the two terms found at the end of our verse: a gift, a matanah, and an inheritance, yerushah. What do you think is the difference between the two? How, in these days before Tish’ah B’Av, do these words apply to the modern State of Israel? We’ll address these questions on Shabbat morning. See you in shul!