We are beginning the 5th book of the Torah, the last one: Deuteronomy. Its first portion, Parashat Devarim. This portion gives us a glimpse of what the entire book will be like—a situation where Moses sits before the people of Israel, like a teacher with all his students, all his followers around him. It seems as if he needs a review, some assistance, to recall the moments when he knows he will die. Thus, he must leave a legacy and list all the obligations, all the traditions.
Everything that has happened from the exodus from Egypt until now, after the covenant at Sinai, which was almost broken with the golden calf. Then, there was another breach with the incident of the spies (meraglim) who were sent to explore the Promised Land but failed to see its abundance of milk and honey. Now, it is the renewed generation that will enter Eretz Israel, The Land of Israel.
In the past, covenants were made between kings, and the people simply followed the decisions of those kings who entered into agreements with others. They had no alternative and no say. In this case, it is the Kadosh Baruch Hu who stands on one side, and all the people are before Him in this covenant, making the decision to move forward. Not only that, but they also commit and recommit themselves every year to the task of growing as a nation, educating themselves as a people, transmitting as a people, and respecting laws, commandments, and traditions.
We are now approaching the 9th day of the month of Av, a day of fasting, introspection, and sadness. It is a day when we do not engage in business or celebrate joyous occasions. On this day, we commemorate the destruction of the Temple, the great Temple in Jerusalem, the Beit Hamikdash. We observe it with a fast, reflecting on the fact that, at that time too, the covenant was broken. During those times, it was not "Naase venishma," "We will do and we will listen," as our ancestors said in front of Mount Sinai. It was not a commitment of "We will do and we will listen." During those years of the Temple's destruction, personal interests and other various things were placed above the Mitzvot. There was "Sinat Achim," the hatred between brothers, and "Sinat chinam," baseless hatred, groundless enmity.
In this re-covenanting that takes place in Deuteronomy, and by re-reading it year after year, we are compelled to do the same. Each one of us must find a way to set aside personal interests and recommit ourselves, as each of us is "Kol Israel arevim ze la ze," every member of the People of Israel is responsible for one another.
Why? Because we were all there, face to face with the Kadosh Baruch Hu and facing Moses, saying: "We are recommitting ourselves, taking this commitment to life, even if it means sacrificing our own interests."
This includes our personal and family life, as well as our Congregation.
Shabbat Shalom ve tzom Kal, may you have a blessed Sabbath and a meaningful fast.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier