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Parashat Devarim - 5777

Dear friends,

This Shabbat we begin reading the fifth Book of the Torah, Devarim or Deuteronomy. Devarim in Hebrew means ‘words’. The book begins with this verse:

"These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan." (Deuteronomy 1:1)

The entire book consists of Moses speaking to the Children of Israel on the East side of the Jordan River, just before they enter the Promised Land.

In the first three chapters, Moses reviews what happened forty years ago - the Exodus, the miracles, the manna, the Revelation at Sinai, the sending of the spies and the reason why they lingered in the wilderness all theses years, and the death of the adult generation that experienced the Exodus. Moses' words are directed at the people telling them his disappointment in the way their parents behaved. Rather than show appreciation for all the miracles they witnessed, they murmured against their leaders and did not show faith in G-d. They listened to the spies and were afraid to go and fight for the Promised Land. They were, therefore, punished to die in the wilderness.

Devarim, "these words", are always read on the Shabbat before the fast of Tisha b’Av, the ninth of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, marking the destruction of the first and second Temple and Israel's exile from the Promised Land. Our sages explain that one of the reasons for the exile was the fact that there was much 'Sinat Hinnam' - baseless hatred among the people. Rather than words of welcome, love and support for one another, people used negative words, they berated, shamed and slandered others just because they might have been different because of their looks, lifestyle or ideas.

Words have a tremendous power to build or destroy. Our history has shown how much our people and the world have suffered from demagogues who used words to express hatred and incite people to violence. G-d gave us the power of speech to be used for complimenting and encouraging others, for expressing appreciation and for promoting acts of kindness for one another. The Talmud says, "One who shames a fellow human being in public has no share in the world to come".

'Devarim' - 'words' - is the theme of this Parasha and of Tisha b’Av. We are encouraged to watch how we use our words.

Shabbat Shalom,