Archive for Tisha B’Av

D’varim: All are Responsible

Copyright 2016 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: D’varim

These are the words that Moshe addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. . . (D’varim/Deuteronomy 1:1)

Good morning!

We begin a new Torah portion this week, the fifth and final book of the Torah, D’varim– literally, “words,” as in the words that Moshe spoke to the Israelites before they crossed over into Israel. Rashi and others understand the theme of D’varim- both the Torah portion and the entire book- to be tochechah, or “rebuke,” to the people for all the times they forgot or angered God.

Rashi has several examples of this in his commentary on this opening verse but he also focusses on the word “all” in the verse: “these are the words [of rebuke, according to Rashi] that Moshe addressed to all Israel.” Rashi brings an almost comical example, which loosely paraphrased goes like this :

If people had been out in the market and didn’t hear Moshe’s rebuke, they could have said, “hey, you heard what Moshe said about this and that, and you didn’t object! But if we had been there, we would have answered him right back.” So Moshe brought all of them together and said, “see, you’re all here, if anybody has an objection, speak up!”

Now, your first question to Rashi might be: what market? They were out in the desert across the Jordan river! The anachronistic example tips us off that his commentary is not meant to be taken literally but rather as an illustration of the human tendency to believe that societal or collective problems are somebody else’s problem and responsibility, not our own. That is, if Moshe had rebuked me, I’d have a great answer as to why the difficulties of the Jewish people or the world at large aren’t my fault- but you other people have no answer for him!

The Torah portion D’varim is always read before the observance of Tisha B’Av, the sad memorial day of fasting and penitence. Tisha B’Av is in many ways the beginning of the season of the Days of Awe. We sit and fast and reflect upon the brokenness of the world precisely so we can take responsibility for our own piece of that brokenness, or at the very least, our failure to fix what we can, starting within ourselves. Whether it’s causeless hatred or the breakdown of social bonds or what seems like a massive failure of mutual understanding among various communities within our greater polity, the rebuke for these problems is on all of us. In a different (but not so different) context, Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “some are guilty, but all are responsible.”*

Moshe called all the people to account; nobody was permitted to say, “this doesn’t apply to me.” Should we be any different in deeply reflecting upon how to bring healing and repentance to a shouting and violent world?

Shabbat Shalom,


*There are various versions of this quote but the gist is the same.

The views expressed are my own and do not reflect that of Vassar Brothers Medical Center or Health-Quest.

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D’varim: What is Within Your Heart

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger
Torah Portion: D’varim./ Shabbat Chazon 

“You murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, God took us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand[s] of the Amorites to exterminate us.’ “  (D’varimi/ Deuteronomy 1:27)

Good afternoon! 
We are starting the book of D’varim, which begins with Moshe recounting the history of the people from the Exodus till the end of the 40 years of sojourning. In the verse above, Moshe recounts how the people wailed and cried after the spies came back with a discouraging report about the Land of Israel; they said “the Lord hates us,” imagining out of their anxiety that they were brought forth to die in the desert. 
Rashi, as usual, has an acute insight, noting that it was not God who hated Israel, but the other way around. He quotes a folk saying to the effect that “what’s in your heart about your companion, you think he thinks about you.” Psychologists call this “projection;” the basic idea is that we deal with unwanted or unacceptable feelings within ourselves by “projecting” them onto others. 
In other words, the Israelites could not admit that they were scared, angry or anxious about the changes and challenges that had come so quickly since Egypt, so instead they blamed others- Moshe, Aharon, even God- for putting them in a terrible situation. This is a common response to stress and crisis, but it’s not a particularly helpful one; Judaism stresses instead the concept of “cheshbon nefesh,” or “soul-accounting,” so that we may discern what role we played in whatever befalls us. Please note: introspection is not the same as blame or self-recrimination; we assume that in messes both historical and personal, there is enough responsibility to go around. 
This fits in well with the prophetic message we’ve been hearing in the weeks leading up to Tisha B’Avthe sad memorial day which begins right after Shabbat. The prophets challenge the people Israel to connect their situation to their sins, but also reassure them that a covenant with the Divine will ultimately sustain them. Tisha B’Av is a time to ask: what accountability do I have for the world and its brokenness? What is within me that is broken? It’s an introspective time, in which we remember the tragedies of our people but also seek to understand our own role in healing the world. That can only happen with self-knowledge and appropriate humility, so we do not hate others for what we have not healed within ourselves. 
Shabbat Shalom, 

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Tisha B’Av and omitted link

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Tisha B’Av

Shalom Friends, we interrupt the regular weekly parsha studies in order to
remind you that
the commemoration of the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) begins this coming Saturday

Tisha B’Av is Judaism’s saddest holy day, a day in which tragedies of Jewish
history are
mourned and contemplated. More specifically, Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of
ancient Temple, a disaster which forever changed the course of Jewish history.
It’s hard for
us as contemporary Americans to appreciate how disconsolate our ancestors were
losing (in a bloody war of repression) the very seat and symbol of Jewish
sovereignty, and religion.

Imagine, as Americans, if the 9/11 attacks had taken down the White House,
Congress, the
World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the Supreme Court,
and so on-
all the symbols of America which give us pride and confidence in our country.
Our rage
and sorrow would be unimaginable- and that’s what Tisha B’Av asks us to imagine.

Tisha B’Av is observed by fasting and other physical restrictions, not wearing
leather shoes
(seen as symbols of luxury and therefore inappropriate at a time of mourning),
sorrowful prayers in the synagogue, and reading the Book of Lamentations, which
tells the
history of the first expulsion from Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av, in some ways, is like
a mirror
image of Purim; instead of drinking and feasting, we fast; instead of reading a
scroll about
our great deliverance, we read a scroll telling of our exile; instead of
dressing up in funny
costumes, we take off our ordinary shoes and go “barefoot” like a refugee.

Both holidays bring us to profound truths: Purim asks us to celebrate life
despite its
occasional absurdity, and Tisha B’Av reminds us that our own suffering is
redeemed only if
we can turn its remembrance into compassion. So we fast, and sit on the floor,
and go
without our fancy shoes, and maybe, God willing, our hearts will open to those
who lament
not the past, but the present, and we will go forth and redeem the world, so
that future
generations have less to lament.

To learn more about Tisha B’Av, go here:

To read the text of this week’s Torah portion (a link I usually include in the
parsha email),
go here:

with blessings of peace,


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