Shabbat Devarim 5772

For 40 years, Moshe held his feelings more or less in check. But now, at the beginning of Sefer Devarim, his Book of Words, he lets loose. He spares few details and even fewer feelings as he recounts the years from the Exodus until the present, with the nation standing on the brink of the Promised Land, a land he’ll never enter.

“It was in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moses addressed the Israelites…” (Deuteronomy 1:3). The midrash observes that Moshe’s words here were the result of years of strategic planning: “Melamed shelo hokhiham ela samukh lamitah–this teaches that Moshe only rebuked them soon before he was to die”(Sifrei Devarim 2). The midrash adds that Moshe learned this lesson from Ya’akov, who saved his true thoughts about his children for his deathbed farewell.

On Shabbat morning, we’ll look deeper into this midrash, which includes four advantages for saving hokhahah, reproof or harsh but constructive criticism, for the last possible moment. One can’t help compare Moshe’s 40-year silence with the persistent yet unfulfilled wishes of Ankie Spitzer to have her husband Andre and the other ten victims of the Munich Massacre receive a proper tribute at the Olympics. For more on her tireless fight for justice, read Ankie’s Quest. How frustrating it must be for her to be stonewalled for 40 years. How frustrating must it have been for Moshe to hold his tongue for just as long.

When it comes to giving rebuke, which strategy is better–Moshe’s or Ankie’s? 

With the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics less than 24 hours away, I am struck by the courage of those who have made noise for years to achieve just one minute of silence. And so I will be heading to the Israeli Consulate at Second Avenue and 42nd St. in Manhattan on Friday morning to attend a memorial service. Wherever you happen to be at 11 a.m. tomorrow, stop what you are doing for one minute and stand in silence. It’s more than just a memorial tribute to Jewish victims of terror. Consider it a loud message of rebuke. 

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Tisha B’Av,


Rabbi David Wise