‘Correction’ proves key in D’varim


The Shabbat preceding the week in which Tisha b’Av falls is marked with the reading of the fifth, and final, book of the Torah, D’varim. It’s literally a unique book both in style and content. You might call it Moses’ last will and testament to the Children of Israel.

Moses died on the seventh of Adar, according to tradition. The Torah itself states that on the first day of the 11th month (Sh’vat) Moses began to expound the Torah to the Jewish People. In other words he took 36 days to deliver three speeches. In those speeches he reviews the experiences he has shared with the Jewish People; he encourages them to remain loyal to God and to follow God’s mitzvot (commandments) and he goes over many of the commandments that we have encountered in the previous three books. Throughout the book one senses the concern and urgency that Moses has for the future and just how well he understands human nature.


The word ‘d’varim’ (‘words’) comes from a Hebrew root d-v-r which the Tradition awards a harsh connotation. This is in contrast to the root a-m-r (‘amar’ — “to say”) which has a gentle connotation. In what sense, then, does this final book have a harsh tone?

The speeches are understood to be words of correction. In fact the very first verse mentions a number of places (the wilderness, opposite Suf, between Paran and Chatzeirot, etc.) Some of these places aren’t ever mentioned anywhere else. Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, tells us that these are actually veiled references to the places where the Israelites acted rebelliously in the Presence of God. For example, the Wilderness refers to a place called Shittim located in the Wilderness of Moab where the Israelites acted immorally and worshipped Baal Pe-or.

Correction is never an easy issue. It takes training and character to be able to accept it and delivering correction takes talent and sensitivity. It isn’t just a matter of “getting things off your chest.” Ultimately, to make a difference, the correction has to penetrated the heart and mind of the recipient; it has to be accepted in a way where there will be the least amount of the stubborn anger that is the all too human response (“Ain’t no-one goin’ to tell ME what to do!”).

Moses wanted to respect the honor of the Israelites and so only vaguely referred to the serious mistakes of the past 40 years.

Sadly, history was to validate Moses’ concerns, as the events that eventually led to the destruction of both Temples were to prove. The question still remains: will we have the ear to hear and the heart to understand the deeper purposes that life presents us?

The fast of Tisha b’Av gives us the opportunity to take the time to reflect.

Rabbi Mordecai Miller serves Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel in Richmond Heights and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.