This week, we begin the fifth book of the Torah, known as Devarim. As Moshe enters the final five weeks of his life, he begins to prepare the Jewish people for their transition into the promised land. Over the past 40 years, the people have led a relatively sheltered life with few external challenges. Now, they must be ready to face a new reality, without the guidance of Moshe and the constant protection of Hashem. They must really get their act together.
Moshe begins the transition process by mentioning some of the places the Jews have visited during their lengthy travels in the desert, thus reminding them of the negative events associated with those places. His purpose was to facilitate their recognition of their mistakes, and to encourage a better attitude to help avoid repetition thereof.
This narrative is communicated to us because the same lessons apply in every generation. Each of us has made a number of stops in our lifetime, different schools, different cities, different jobs, and perhaps, different spouses. It is incumbent upon us to look back at each of those stations in our life and evaluate: What impact did I have? What did I accomplish? What were my weaknesses and mistakes? Only by taking an honest evaluation of the past can we make the necessary adjustments and be able to look forward to a productive future.
As we approach the fast of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, we remember the serious errors the Jewish people have made throughout our history and the tragedies that followed. Only by identifying those errors, personalizing them and striving to correct them, can we hope to bring about a better world for ourselves and for our children. It’s easy to look back and criticize what “they” did back “then.” It’s not about them – it’s about us.
Hopefully, if we make the appropriate changes in our lives, the day of Tisha B’Av will be transformed from a day of mourning to a day of joy for the Jewish people and for the entire world.
Let us make it happen. Next year in Jerusalem!
Rabbi Chaim Capland is rabbi at The Torah Center.