Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel WeinCourtesy

There is a shift in mood in the book of Dvarim beginning with this week’s parsha. It no longer is a review of the events of the desert or of the Exodus from Egypt. Moshe no longer will concentrate on the faults and failures of the generation that left Egypt – a generation with that saw their high hopes dashed by their stubbornness and a lack of faith. The past is the past and it cannot be changed. God, so to speak, will not turn the film back again for some sort of replay.

The direction of Moshe is now the future, the entry into the Land of Israel and the establishment of a normative Jewish society in that land. Moshe warns the Jewish people that the lessons of the past should not be forgotten or ignored. Their consequences are likely to be repeated if the Jewish people will backslide again.

Life and death, good and evil, success and failure – these are the choices that lie before the Jewish people. And Moshe advises us to choose wisely, to treasure life and do good and honor tradition and Torah. A positive future always depends upon making wiser choices than were made in the past.

The word re’ah which means “see” is the key word in the parsha. This entails a vision for the future and an understanding as to its new demands and changing circumstances. Moshe turns the attention of the Jewish people to its future in the Land of Israel and to new commandments not mentioned before in the Torah. It appears that these new commandments are brought to the fore to help the Jewish people be successful in their new environment.

The holy days of the Jewish calendar appear in detail in this week’s parsha. In the Land of Israel these holy days had a physical and agricultural content as well as their inherent spiritual nature. In the long and dark Jewish exile, the physical and agricultural aspects of the holidays were lost but the spiritual and holy qualities of those days nevertheless sustained the Jewish people.

The early pioneers who returned to the Land of Israel, secularized and Marxist to the hilt but nonetheless Jewish, attempted to reinsert the physical and agricultural qualities of the holidays of the year and at the same time to discard completely the spiritual and Torah qualities. Unfortunately, that experiment has proved to be a dismal failure.

Those holidays are bereft of any spiritual content and of any agricultural or national meaning. Moshe would caution us to begin again, to include life, goodness, and tradition into the holy days so that they would have true meaning and impact – and through them to revive our attachment to the holy land and its bountiful produce.

I think that the revival of the true spirit of the holidays is one of the great challenges that face us in our land today. In its own way, it is a key to solving many of the difficulties that bedevil us currently. Moshe bids us to look clearly at all these matters and to decide wisely.

(Reposted from 5768)